Advanced Manufacturing Teaching Center opens in Derby High School
DERBY — There was a time the Naugatuck Valley was considered a center of manufacturing in Connecticut.
Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia Manufacturing/Teledyne, Hull Dye, B. F. Goodrich, Housatonic Wire and Uniroyal are long gone, but legislators say manufacturing jobs in the state are going unfilled because of a lack of trained workers.
On Monday, officials cut the ribbon on a $1.2 million Advanced Manufacturing Learning Center in the basement of Derby High School.
“This is the first one of its kind in a public high school in this state,” said Frank Gulluni, the director of the Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center at Asnuntuck Community college.
The Derby center was a collaboration between the state, Asnuntuck Community College, Housatonic Community College with others.
Among those who attended the ribbon cutting were Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said, “This program is very much like our old programs. It’s teaching people how to make things. Making things is in Connecticut’s DNA.”
The Center is housed in three interconnected redesigned rooms in the high school’s basement.
Brendon Brown teaches bench working and machinery; Kyle Pepin instructs the students on solid works and Computer Assisted Design. Both are Housatonic Community College faculty members.
The first room is the smallest with several computer work stations. A second larger room contains a white board, some desks and several work benches with familiar tools of the manufacturing trade: lathes, drills, saws, files and micrometers. A third much bigger room holds four engine lathes to cut round objects like cam shafts, four vertical milling machines to cut square and octagon shapes, individual work stations down the middle with granite tops and two automated computer numerical control machines to make thousands of finished products at a time.
The CNC machinery units are made by Hardinge, a nameplate familiar to people who knew Bridgeport’s place in manufacturing history.
“These were once made by Bridgeport Machines on Seaside Avenue,” said Joseph Duhaime, the program director for Housatonic Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center.
There is space for a fourth room available to expand the suite.
“We could probably use some inspection equipment,” Duhaime said.
Creating the Center has been a two-year journey. Late last September, 14 juniors enrolled in program on the advice of Richard Abelli, their woodworking teacher.
They spent their first year working on computers, experimenting with CAD, learning to read blueprints and doing some introductory tool bench work. Another dozen came aboard in January.
Next fall, they will graduate to the machine room while another dozen or so juniors are introduced to the preliminary work.
“I didn’t want to go to college,” said Skyler Curcio, 16. “I had no idea what I was going to do after high school. This opened my eyes to what’s available. I’m excited about making a career out of this.”
Julian DeLaRosa, 17, said the skills he has learned will help him in his studies to become an architect.
“It’s given us a head start on our college credits,” said Quinn Hayes, 16, who said she plans to continue her Advanced Manufacturing education at Housatonic. Those who graduate from this program will received HCC college credits.
“It’s great to see the kids come on board,” said Ray Coplin, the assistant principal. “We’re helping our students realize there are other opportunities and ways to enter the workforce beyond a four-year college.”
“If we take this to (the) fullest and develop it into three two-hour sessions during the day and at night — my goodness gracious, we can impact over 1,000 people in a year,” Gulluni said. “This is going to be the leader so we have to grow it even greater.
“We’re not just talking jobs here,” he added. “We’re talking careers.”
State Rep. Kara Rochelle, D-Ansonia, has introduced state House Bill 5883 which would expand the program to eight high schools across the state.
“We’ve got support on both sides of the aisle,” said. Rochelle, who grew up in Seymour and lives in Ansonia. “It’s just a good common sense bill to move this state forward. We have 12,000 manufacturing jobs that are unfilled. In 10 years, that number is expected to grow to 30,000.”
Jim Gildea, the chairman of Derby’s Board of Education and director of manufacturing at Bigelow Tea, said there are open manufacturing jobs at Bigelow paying $50,000 a year.
“We’re coming off our best sales months and we have a critical need for skilled employees,” he said.
U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who attended the grand opening, said she is working in Congress to secure $7 billion in funding to invest in good-paying jobs — a total that includes $90 million for registered apprenticeship programs and $150 million for developing programs at community and four-year colleges.
“Manufacturing’s no long about choking soot and deafening sounds,” she said. “Today, it’s about clean floors, quiet machines and computers.”