October 25, 2021

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Butler Tech’s $24M funding request for new facilities gains support

Sep. 11—The Butler County commissioners have heard all but about three proposals for nearly $75 million in American Rescue Plan funding, and the plan to build two new vocational school campuses is the largest ask and has the most vocal support.

The commissioners have received more than 34 requests totaling about $130 million. The largest ask remains Butler Tech’s request for $24 million. The cheapest request is $125,000 from the Health Management Group to help increase training for health care workers.

Butler Tech Superintendent/CEO Jon Graft brought about 20 supporters with him to make his pitch to the commissioners. The plan generally calls for a new facility at Middletown’s airport to teach innovations in the aviation industry and a location in Hamilton for advanced manufacturing career training, like 3-D printing and robotics, “to create a pipeline of a workforce to meet the needs of these industries,” Graft told the Journal-News previously.

He told the commissioners the project will fill a need that grows larger by the day.

“The rationale for this is that currently the skills gap is due to increasing demand and growth and speed of technology that is occurring in our nation, 47% of all jobs will be phased out in the coming years,” Graft said. “At the same time 65% of high school students will work in jobs that currently don’t exist.”

The preliminary cost estimates are identical for each location, $7 million for a building; $2 million for equipment, $2 million for programming and $1 million in ongoing costs for a total of $24 million. Graft told the commissioners Butler Tech will pick up the ongoing costs after the first year.

He said the plan works because the school has buy-in from so many other partners, like experts already in the two fields who can help craft the curriculum.

“Yes this is a Butler Tech initiative, but this is a collection of a lot of individuals, communities, business partners, colleges and universities, associate schools that are together in this proposition,” Graft said. “We know that there is a strong need and a desire to advance our workforce, to advance our economy, to train our communities.”

A key goal for the federal funds is to help the underprivileged in qualified census tracts. Graft noted the poverty rate in Hamilton is 17% and Middletown stands at 25%. The commissioners have vowed to spend the money on things that can have a lasting beneficial impact on the county.

Rick Pate, CEO of secondary programs for the Hamilton City Schools, said this plan fits that description.

“This opportunity for many of our students is that life changing opportunity,” Pate said. “Many of our students graduate, they don’t have future plans, they are likely not going to a college or university, but they need that gainful employment after graduation. These types of programs, especially advanced manufacturing here in Hamilton, truly is that thing that can break that cycle for many of our families.”

The commissioners have not generally voiced opinions on proposals but Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News this one deserves serious consideration.

“It seems like the protocol for this is to almost partner with existing companies or firms that have a need, then you make the curriculum to fit that and the training,” Rogers said. “Then they have a job when they get out I think that’s important. If we can train them here, get them a job here, there’s a good chance they will stay here, that has always appealed to me.”

From the beginning Commissioner Cindy Carpenter has said this project is her number one priority for a variety of reasons. She noted Graft said these buildings will still be viable 50 years from now for training Butler County youth. There are 550 related businesses in these fields in the state. Also, because of the partnership with Miami University, the students can earn college credits.

Butler Tech is asking for a third of the county’s federal allocation but Carpenter said “I think it’s important to give resources to the next generation, I can’t stress how important that it.”

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