Steamboat Springs The classes were full during the first week of school at the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center in Hayden, but the facilities' newest classrooms remained empty as school officials awaited the arrival of furniture and equipment.
The expanded technical center, which grew from 2,800 square feet to 11,200 square feet, is close to being open.
Kevin Kleckler, who heads the vocational tech center, said the increased space will improve the quality of education, because students will have more hands-on opportunities and more advanced equipment with which to work than they did before.
"We're going to try to take away the shady tree mechanics and turn out excellent technicians," he said.
The new building will have room for 24 cars - 18 in an auto mechanics bay and six in the bodywork shop. Nearly every student will have his or her own car to work on during classes.
"This is going to be awesome for all the students," Kleckler said.
Kleckler will teach two college courses and five high school classes in the building, including welding certification and auto repair. The college-level courses are organized through Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig.
Kleckler said the college courses are full for this term, but he has a couple openings in his high school classes. He said students from all surrounding communities are welcome to enroll, and he eventually hopes to make the building into a center of vocational technology for all of the Yampa Valley area.
Jim Weltzheimer, a student in the welding certification course, said he was impressed by the facility and course offerings.
"This is fantastic; Kevin is really on the ball," he said. "He has a top-notch program to help guys learn and get their skills going."
Weltzheimer, who lives in Steamboat Springs, was one of 12 students enrolled in the course and said he has taken several other courses with Kleckler. Fellow student Jared Arellano said the classes and facilities are worth the half-hour drive once a week.
"I'm doing it just for the knowledge and maybe as something to fall back on in a few years. It's fun, so it's worth coming," Arellano said.
The welding class primarily will be held in the old part of the building, but new classrooms will accommodate a manual drafting class, a computer-aided drafting class and a research room, in addition to the high-ceilinged auto bays.
Kleckler said he and a team of local school administrators and businessmen have raised nearly $1.3 million of the $1.6 million needed for the center. Donations still are pouring in, he said, and the center received $30,000 in donations Thursday.
The furniture will arrive soon, and Kleckler said he hopes the first pieces can be moved in later this week.