A whole new world of educational experiences opened up for the students in the Redwood Area School District Monday, Jan. 7.

That day, as the second semester of the 2018-19 school year began, students walked into the Estebo Career Development and Training Center, a new wing that has been added to the Redwood Valley schools campus.

“I am very excited for our students and the community,” said Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent.

A wise man once said education opens doors, and Ellingworth believes those words will certainly hold true for local students of all ages as they are introduced to new ideas, programs, concepts and opportunities through this facility.

Ellingworth gives credit to local philanthropist Orrin Estebo whose $1 million donation kicked off the funding for the addition, that will focus on more of the hands-on, technical trades that are necessary for any community to function. 

Through the new facility students will have chances to develop new skills in their areas of interest whether that be in agriculture, business, engineering, construction or healthcare, just to name a few.

For years, much of the focus of education was in preparing students to go on and earn four-year degrees, but Ellingworth said that pendulum has been swinging back with education now focused on the idea that not all successful people have careers that start with a bachelors degree.

Estebo, who has been actively involved in the process of developing the new facility all along the way, had the chance to visit the nearly completed site this past week, and he said what he saw even exceeded his expectations for the center.

Estebo said he is proud to know he had the chance to be part of this project, adding in all of the years he has been investing in educational opportunities at the local level this project has been the most exciting simply because of the number of people who have approached him to express their appreciation and interest in what it can bring to the community.

“I am very optimistic,” said Estebo, adding he only wishes he was much younger, so that he could witness the ultimate outcomes years from now of the new facility.

The addition is currently being used by several classes, including a number of new ones offered to high-school students, but Estebo said he is really looking forward to seeing the full capabilities of the center and its programming.

Ellingworth said that potential exists not only for local school students but for the community as a whole. The vision from the beginning of the development of the new addition was that it would be a place where the community as a whole could learn and grow.

He said, like the Redwood Area Community Center, he pictures the career development and training center to be a place that could be available throughout the day and into the evening as local businesses utilize the site for continuing education and training.

“We want people to use it,” said Ellingworth.

No, he added, the intent is not to make money but to ensure the community continues to grow and thrive because of the opportunities for skill development that take place in the center. The site also has been designed to open up the opportunity for post-secondary education to take place locally, added Ellingworth.

Ellingworth said 95 percent of the work has been done inside of the facility with just a few punch list items left to accomplish. There is more work that needs to be done to the exterior, and Ellingworth said that will be done later this year.

With the stage set for learning to take place, the work of ensuring the students who utilize it have the latest in technology available continues, as the school district leadership looks to find ways to fund the purchase of cutting-edge equipment that will enhance that education.

According to Ellingworth, a goal has been established to raise $500,000 over the next five years to help with that effort, and of that amount $200,000 has been committed.

The work of finding the rest will continue, but Ellingworth is confident that when area businesses see the facility and realize the potential it has to help them address workforce challenges the investments will be made.

The efforts of Estebo have inspired others, said Ellingworth, as he said so many others have offered unsolicited donations that have totaled in the area of $10,000 for the project.

Estebo gave credit to those others who have made commitments, and he recognized the Redwood Area Board of Education for its dedication to and vision for the center.

Estebo said he has spoken with local tradesmen about the need that exists for people who “can pound nails,” and he has heard plenty of stories of students who would like to come back to the community where they were raised.

He has also seen examples of students who have learned a trade and have returned and now have good paying jobs, own houses, are raising their families and have become assets for the community. He has also heard the stories of students who have gone off to earn their four-year degrees but are not able to find jobs related to their degrees and have settled for low-paying jobs to make ends meet.

Estebo added he has been pushing for this concept for decades, adding he is glad to see that pendulum has been swinging back opening the door for students to see everything that is available to them.

Enhancements have been made to the school’s existing programs in music, art, shop and technology as part of the project, and Ellingworth said he has had a lot of fun over the past several months watching as the center came to life.

“This is what school should be,” said Ellingworth.