Rebirth on East Benton

P-TECH brings new life to old building

Submitted Photo A student enters the new WNY P-TECH STEM College & Career Academy on East Benton Street in Dunkirk on Monday morning. Pathways to Early College High School (P-TECH) is a joint effort between the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES and the Dunkirk City School District. It opened its doors Monday for the first day of academic classes at its newly renovated location. The original structure was built in 1915. Over 100 years later, it has been completely renovated via a $8,288,500 Capital Construction Project.

The neighborhood of East Benton, Nevins and Talcott streets is noticeably busier this week — and it will be bustling with activity for the forseeable future.

It was the dawn of a new era Monday morning as students and staff streamed into the new WNY P-TECH STEM College & Career Academy, breathing new life into the former School No. 6 on East Benton Street, which shuttered in the 1990s.

A handwritten sign on a dry erase board was set up in the Pathways to Early College High School (P-TECH) entrance: “Welcome! Feel free to get breakfast, explore, play hacky sack in the gym. Homeroom at 8:30 in classrooms.”

“It’s nice to be in our beautiful, new home,” said P-TECH Principal Steven Ruszczyk.

“Our students have been anticipating this for a long time. They toured the building two years ago — before any construction began. They saw the graffiti and the crumbling walls. So they can really appreciate this magnificent transformation.”

The structure’s sparkling-clean exterior belies a storied history. The original three-story building in Dunkirk’s Fourth Ward neighborhood was finished in 1915 and it operated as one of the Dunkirk City School District’s schools until 1997, when the students were re-districted and School No. 6 closed its doors. The structure was home to the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County for a handful of years, but has been largely uninhabited for the past two decades. Unoccupied, the building suffered significant deterioration before Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES and the Dunkirk district intervened with the possibility of P-TECH.

A PROMISING FUTURE

P-TECH is a six-year program wherein students complete both a Regent’s Diploma and earn an associate degree. The program — which kicked off in September 2015 and was housed at the LoGuidice Educational Center in Fredonia until last week — aims to create the high-tech manufacturing, college-educated workforce of Chautauqua County’s future. It is possible via a partnership with Erie 2 BOCES, the Dunkirk City School District, Jamestown Community College and a host of industry partners, mentors and stakeholders.

Currently there are 78 students and 14 staff at P-TECH, with an additional 40 students expected to join the ranks in September 2018 as part of the academy’s fourth cohort. At full capacity, P-TECH could accommodate up to 240 students.

A MODERN MAKEOVER

The massive scope of the capital project was a complete renovation and reconsideration of the interior and exterior. P-TECH has a new roof, windows, doors, flooring and extensive electrical, mechanical and plumbing upgrades.

“Erie 2 BOCES is very excited to have our students and teachers in their permanent home in Dunkirk,” said Director of Workforce Development Dr. Janeil Rey. “This building’s renovation was specifically designed to address the learning goals of P-TECH to prepare students for careers in high demand fields.”

Shiny new tile and wide swaths of fresh paint in orange and blue — the P-TECH colors — give facility a bright and clean first impression. The classrooms are outfitted with modern, flexible seating ideal for project-based learning and collaboration. Large photo canvases depicting P-TECH students engaged in learning and inspirational quotes decorate the corridors and classrooms. Outdoors, significant changes are also visible — including pristine pavements and parking lots. Exterior beautification efforts will continue in April via extensive landscaping.

EMBRACING CHANGE

The new educational space has welding and CADD laboratories, a machinery and tool area, a Makerspace and collaborative work stations. The charm and character of the old building remain while the new building is infused with life and energy. The smell of fresh paint lingers in the hallways. Formerly abandoned classrooms are full of students embarking on new academic adventures. Young voices — their questions, comments and laughter — echo in the corridors. And old memories make way for new ones.

For more information about P-TECH, visit www.e2ccb.org.

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