Auto dealers pledge money to expand Peaslee Tech vocational school

October 11, 2016

Instructor John Rasmussen, left, leads his students Matt Day, John Bradshaw and Matt Brummer through some course information on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016 during a Flint Hills Technical College industrial mechanics class at the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center, 2920 Haskell Ave. The center is beginning its second year and is seeking supplemental funding from Douglas County.

A new program slated to launch next fall at Lawrence’s Peaslee Technical Training Center will offer educational opportunities — and certification — for those looking to enter the field of automotive technology.

Peaslee leaders met with partners from Johnson County Community College, Lawrence Public Schools, The Chamber and local car dealerships to discuss the program Monday at the technical center, 2920 Haskell Ave.

The program is the realization of one of several long-term Peaslee goals to expand its training to areas such as electrical and plumbing. Instructors from JCCC will lead the classes, which will be open to both high school students and adults.

“The sky’s the limit. We’ll just keep working on this until we fill our facility,” said Marvin Hunt, the center’s executive director. “By adding more diversity of training, you can help more people who walk through our door, in fact, even our community.”

Under the partnership, six Lawrence dealers — Laird Noller, Dale Willey, Briggs, Crown Toyota, Jack Ellena Honda and Lawrence Kia — will each contribute $10,000 a year for five years to fund the program, which would in turn connect Peaslee graduates with jobs at those facilities.

Peaslee Tech is a partnership between the city of Lawrence, Douglas County, The Chamber, Lawrence Public Schools, and the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County. The vocational school often seeks support from private industry to expand course offerings, most recently adding a laboratory to teach students skills to become technicians in heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems.

“This is a project we’ve wanted for 40-plus years,” Dale Willey, the now-retired auto dealer who has helped spearhead the Peaslee efforts, told his colleagues before leading them on a tour of the space that will tentatively house the auto technician program.

Peaslee officials are still awaiting approval from the Kansas Board of Regents before classes can begin, but Willey, a self-described optimist, doesn’t “anticipate any problems” on that front. There’s also the issue of securing building permits before renovations can begin on the previously unused former warehouse space at Peaslee, which is located in the building that once housed Honeywell Avionics and King Radio.

Renovations — Peaslee officials said they have yet to receive budget estimates from contractors — would entail a new auto technology shop complete with car bays and equipment, plus a handful of classrooms, new lighting and the refiguring of air and electrical lines. Willey said he hopes the project starts construction within 90 days.

Peaslee, which opened in fall 2015 with approximately 100 students, now boasts an enrollment of more than 300, said Shirley Martin-Smith, who chairs the center’s board.

Currently, Peaslee offers classes in carpentry, construction, HVAC, manufacturing and welding, among other subjects, as well as non-credit courses in problem solving, workplace conflict resolution, financial literacy and career-building.

Certified auto technicians have been in high demand for several years now, said Martin-Smith, with the shift to computer-driven technology helping to create that demand.

A program like Peaslee’s, she added, would set students up for high-paying, sought-after jobs in the Lawrence area. Mechanics and technicians can earn more than $60,000 in many positions, according to various salary surveys.

“The need to teach people how to repair our cars is critical in any community, and we want to draw from the local citizenry to learn those jobs and to be able to deliver that service in dealerships,” she said. “We have to grow our own. We have to.”