RED LODGE — Red Lodge High School was already one of the most beautiful in the area. Now, it’s one of the most desirable after Wednesday’s grand opening of its Career Technical Education Center that is giving students a leg up on just about any career path they choose.
"Right now, I’m taking automotive, welding, college physics, and robotics," said Red Lodge senior Brandon Emineth, "so I spend most of my time in there."
The new CTE center is a trade worker's paradise.
"I look forward to coming to school now instead of sitting in class all day," laughed senior Trent Petersen.
There’s a full machine shop that can also function as a woodshop. The automotive class is already full, with a waiting list for next semester.
"I feel like I can fix almost anything on (my car) now," Emineth said.
The main building also houses a media arts room, complete with a floor-to-ceiling green screen, as well as a new student and staff wellness center funded by an anonymous donation. Most of the building was paid for by the Carbon County bond measure that passed with 68% of the vote.
Gov. Greg Gianforte was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday because increasing trade jobs has been a big part of his first year in office. He signed the Montana Trades Education Credit in April 2021, which gives up to 1,000 scholarships per year to students pursuing jobs in trade industries.
"The state will pay up to $3,000 per year per student for anyone to become a carpenter or a plumber or an electrician or a welder," Gianforte said to a gym full of students.
"A welding class is going to benefit an engineer just as much as going to college," said Red Lodge schools Superintendent John Fitzgerald. "Probably more so with the hands-on experience."
College costs keep going up. U.S. News and World Report’s 2021 numbers show the average yearly price of a four-year, in-state public university is more than $10,000. Private universities charge almost four times that.
Emineth didn’t know anything about being a welder when he got to high school. Now?
"I'm planning on getting my associate’s degree in welding," he said. "Having this center opens up eyes to new jobs you’d never thought you would want to do."
That includes jobs in agriculture, with an expanded agriculture building on campus. It’s a big reason Trent Petersen wants to become a first-generation rancher.
"The process of starting from nothing to getting food on plate, it's that satisfying feeling that you did something for somebody," Petersen said.
"That’s the goal, right?" Fitzgerald said. "If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you tend to be more successful in what you’re doing."
Red Lodge plans to open classes up to other schools within Carbon County, like Roberts, Belfry, and Bridger. They will also offer adult education classes inside the CTE center.