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Mississippi County explores establishing tech school in Gates Rubber building
CHARLESTON, Mo. -- Establishing a tech school in the Gates Rubber building could be the way to "turn lemons into lemonade," according to Mississippi County's presiding county commissioner.
Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett said during the regular county commission meeting Thursday that he has been giving a lot of thought to what could be done with the building when the company vacates it.
Officials for the Gates Rubber Co. announced in March the plant would close, although a date for the closure has not yet been released.
Gates opened the Charleston plant, which makes hydraulic hoses for tractors and airplanes, in 1981 and had recently employed almost 130 people.
Bennett said the plant occupies a "huge building" that he believes will fall into disrepair if it remains vacant.
Clifford Rolwing, a county resident, suggested putting in a technical school, Bennett said, where high school vocational and adult students could train to be welders, electricians, paint and auto body specialists, diesel mechanics, computer techs or in any other trade skills there is a local need for.
Bennett said there is one important issue to address: "Funding: can we get the money?"
When contacted to discuss putting a tech school in the Gates building, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson "was very excited about the idea," Bennett said.
Charleston High School vo-tech students currently go to Sikeston, Mo., while those at East Prairie High School go to New Madrid, Mo.
"We could keep them in the county and help the county at the same time," Bennett said.
Devin Stephenson, president of Three Rivers College, is also "very excited about the possibility" as the Three Rivers Campus to be built in Sikeston will be mainly offering classes for those in the nursing program and providing low-level general education courses, according to Bennett.
A technical training facility would be "a real nice fit," he said, and provide for those not pursuing a college degree "a place they can go to learn a trade."
Bennett said the facility could serve Southern Illinois and western Kentucky. "And if we get a good enough reputation, draw from even farther away," he added.
Such a facility would likely result in "a highly-trained workforce here in the county," Bennett said, which would then help "recruit businesses to Mississippi County."
While Southeast Missouri has a high rate of poverty, "the best cure I know for poverty is a job," Bennett said.
Bennett said Emerson has agreed to open discussions with Gates about the company donating the building.
"We're in the planning stages now," he said.