CHESAPEAKE, Ohio - A diesel mechanics laboratory at Collins Career Technical Center in Chesapeake has been transformed into a new large equipment manufacturing program featuring construction equipment simulators and actual heavy equipment operations.

"A $350,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) made this possible," said Stephen Dodgion, superintendent of the technical center. "We applied for the funding last year and got word toward last fall that we would be getting this sizable grant."

On Tuesday, roughly $220,000 worth of large equipment was delivered to the school for the new program. The equipment included a full-size bulldozer, a skid-steer loader, a Towmotor forklift and two mini excavators.

Dodgion says the two-year program for high school juniors and seniors gets the students ready to work in the construction field utilizing heavy equipment such as bulldozers, cranes, scrapers and other heavy equipment operation.

The two-year high school curriculum starts with juniors and offers classroom training that includes using a construction equipment simulator during the first year. When the students are seniors in their second year, they move on to actual use and maintenance of the real heavy equipment.

Dodgion said the school has a 60-acre farm where students can use the equipment, and they have been working with the Lawrence Economic Development Corp. to let students use some of that agency's property to flatten hills and level it for future development.

"This will also help them get this property ready for investment to bring in new businesses and jobs," he said.

Dodgion said currently there are many opportunities for career jobs with technical education.

"Right now that's where the need is in this country, and this program is one of many we offer to fill that need," he said.

Dodgion said the center has contacted the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 regarding the new program.

"The union is where these students can go after completion of this program and apply to become apprentices," he said.

Right now there are approximately eight students enrolled in the new program, according to Dodgion, but there is still room for more students.

"If someone is interested in this program this year, they should contact Collins Career and Technical Center as soon as possible," Dodgion added.

The program's new instructor is 33-year-old Nick Tabor, of Gallipolis, Ohio.

"I have been a union operator out of Local 18 for about eight years and decided I wanted to give back by teaching young people this career trade," Tabor said. "The jobs these students will be qualified for are very good-paying, career positions, especially if you are in the union."

Graduates earn an NCCER certification after successfully completing the program.

"This is a construction industry certification that gives graduates the credentials that pave the way for lucrative careers, job satisfaction and high skills," Tabor said.

The center is hoping to start a new large equipment manufacturing program for adults, Dodgion added.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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