Metalwork on a mission
You may remember WITC Welding Instructor Dan Wilkinson from a project he and his class completed earlier this year welding together a set of replacement crosses for the county cemetery. Wilkinson and his more than capable students are beginning to earn a reputation for their reliable craftsmanship and creativity when it comes to metalwork with a meaning.
Noah Wiedenfeld, Management Analyst for the City of New Richmond, noticed Wilkinson's class's work and asked if he and his students would be willing to take on a project building bike racks for the city.
"So Noah contacted me and he said, 'I saw that article in the paper. What would you think about making some bike racks?' I thought it could be really cool," said Wilkinson.
Wiedenfeld emailed Wilkinson some photos with dimensions for ideas and Wilkinson's class figured out the rest. They are in the process of completing 10 racks to be installed around town sometime this summer.
"I showed the students the email. Then we split up into teams, two guys got the orange, two got the squirrel, a couple guys got the deer and so forth. Each team had to write up all of the paperwork, bill of materials, work instructions, and all the blueprints, drawings, part drawings, assembly drawings to work off including welding symbols and finishing notes. Then I just turn them loose basically. If they have questions, they come find me, otherwise, I just let them do their thing," said Wilkinson.
The designs are not nearly as simple as they look.
"When they first said bicycle racks, I thought ones like at the high school. But no, these are going to be cool, more decorative than practical. So that was better yet," said Wilkinson.
The city specified 2-inch pipe for the project, which the shop did not have the equipment to handle. So the city bought the school a new pipe bender as partial compensation for the work.
The large circles were probably the toughest challenge along with the squirrel.
"It took a little trial and error, but after the first one, they got that all figured out. They spent days working on the squirrel. Any time we get a project like this, it's great for the whole class.
"It took more critical thinking on their part to solve the problems and critical thinking is what WITC is all about," said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson is always on the lookout for appropriate projects for his students to work on. But they have to be the right kinds of projects, not too time sensitive since they only have one day a week to work on them and realistic expectations since these are students still learning their skill.
"Year round, we do a lot of little projects. People will bring in lawn furniture that's broken, stainless buckets for maple syrup that have holes or cracks in them, all kinds of fixes and repairs. We say no to a lot of stuff, because for us to do it, it has to be worth doing and provide a good learning experience for our students," said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson believes in the civic-mindedness projects like the bike racks and the crosses instill in his students. He also appreciates the contribution the school is making as a partner in the community. He sees the long-term value in these experiences as something his students can pay forward as they find jobs and start families in other communities.