At new building, officials highlight Grasso Tech's role in preparing workforce

Groton — Celebrating the new Ella T. Grasso Technical High School building, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that it's a remarkable time to be a student there.

He encouraged students, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility, to pursue a career they love and told them that they will acquire at Grasso Tech the extraordinary skill set they need.

"You have all these opportunities ... to get the best education in the world and stay right here in Connecticut,” said Lamont, who had said Connecticut's strength is that it has the "best trained, most productive, most highly skilled workforce in the world."

State and local officials and members of the school community gathered Thursday for the ceremony and tours of the new, three-story building that opened to students last week and includes shop spaces with updated technology, a more than 300-seat auditorium, a new gym and fitness center and a restaurant, among other features. Later phases call for demolishing the former school building and installing an athletic complex in its place.

With the opening of the new building, the high school added a new four-year welding program and a four-year digital media and sound production program, Principal Patricia Feeney said. It also added a two-year guest services management program.

Three Rivers Community College will offer a Manufacturing Apprenticeship Center in one of the shop areas of the new building. The center will provide welding and design courses to train the college students for positions in manufacturing at Electric Boat and small manufacturers in eastern Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College President Mary Ellen Jukoski said.

Feeney said Grasso students eventually will have the opportunity to attend the welding and design classes offered through the center after graduation.

"Three Rivers College has had a vibrant relationship with Grasso Tech and we’re happy to be part of this new exciting chapter," Jukoski said.

State Commissioner of Education Miguel A. Cardona said the Connecticut Technical High School System and the newly completed Grasso Tech building "will allow us to graduate the next generation of workers that will be globally competitive."

Grasso Tech has formed strong partnerships with southeastern Connecticut business, trade, labor and community organizations whose input ensures that the courses and programs meet industries' and community's evolving needs, he said. The new welding, metal fabrication and shipfitting trade was specifically added to teach a diverse set of skills to support a wide range of regional manufacturers and sheet metal fabricators like Electric Boat and its supply chain manufacturers.

Coming from the real estate and construction industry, Noel Petra, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, said that he can attest to the shortage of skilled trade and craft workers the economy is facing.

"Our demand for work is as high as I’ve ever experienced it and our labor force, while very skilled, is shrinking, basically due to retiring baby boomers," he said. "We need to do everything we can to provide our industries with the qualified workers that they need to continue their success."

Approximately 550 students currently are enrolled at Grasso Tech.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he is most impressed by the school's 800-student enrollment capacity, which he called a challenge and an opportunity that needs to be met. He said skilled workers are needed to fill jobs in Connecticut to build helicopters and submarines and the entire defense industry's supply chain.

Feeney said during her remarks that the high school's enrollment already has significantly increased, which school officials attribute to anticipation of the new building and opportunities for students. The school just graduated a senior class of 90 students, while the incoming freshman class has approximately 170 students.

"Graduates leave our schools ready for all life has to offer," CTECS Superintendent Jeffrey Wihbey said. "Our students graduate with certification, real-life work experience in their trade, soft skills sought after by employers, college readiness and a high school diploma on top of that."

k.drelich@theday.com

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