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School officials outline vision for Norwin STEM center

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 12:33 p.m.

Norwin school officials on Monday outlined their vision for a new education center filled with the tools and teachers needed to train students for the thousands of jobs that go unfilled each year because of a lack of technological skills.

Architects for the Norwin STEM Innovation Center — a proposed 36,000-square-foot building on the district's North Huntingdon campus — presented detailed sketches to school board members that were developed from a series of steering committee meetings conducted over the past four and a half months.

The building's first floor will contain two large, two-story training rooms for energy and engineering programs and two large rooms for advanced manufacturing activities. The first floor also will house a suite of learning labs for a pre-school STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program along with smaller meeting rooms, a cafe and a regional professional development center, said Dwight Knouse II of the architectural firm Hayes Large.

The second floor will contain labs and classrooms for biomedical science and computer science engineering as well as presentation room and a series of small group meeting rooms.

While the focus of the STEM center will be to prepare students for technology careers, the program will also emphasize so-called “soft skills” that equip students with the ability to conduct research, communicate, work in teams, collaborate and be creative, said Tracy McNelly, the district assistant superintendent of secondary education.

“As we look at this we've been saying, what if there was this place where high school students have the opportunity to work alongside our teachers and business and industry leaders to solve real world problems with real world solutions?” said Superintendent William Kerr. “We don't want this to be just another school, we want a state-of the-art facility that looks like the workplace.”

Kerr said some of driving force behind the project is the result of a “skills gap” in the state that has resulted in some 75,000 jobs going unfilled because employees lack the training to do the work.

“We want our students to have these work-ready STEM skills to meet the needs of 21st century employers and prepare them for higher education,” he said.

The two-story building, which is estimated to cost between $9.6 million and $10.6 million, will be situated on a practice field adjacent to the district's administration building. Officials have proposed funding the project through a series of government and charitable foundations grants instead of tax dollars.

Randy Hudson of Hayes Large said the building will create a “learning everywhere environment” in which students “come through the front door and you see things going on everywhere.

“This won't be like going to school, it will be like going to a really great workplace,” Hudson said.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.

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