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Duffy visits Hudson, River Falls projects

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, left, tours continued construction at the Hudson High School with Superintendent Nick Ouellette on Tuesday, May 1. The new space will provide new features for learning and security. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., was joined Tuesday, May 1, by members of the area trade industry at a River Falls construction site. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

School safety was a highlight as U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy toured the construction work at Hudson High School, one of several stops he made Tuesday in Hudson and River Falls to view the communities' recent projects.

The new high school in Hudson will have a variety of different safety measures in its design, Superintendent Nick Ouellette said during the tour of the $80 million-plus project.

The district is looking to address a potential issue with the additional glass in the building by applying for funding for film through the state's recent school safety grant. The new glass will help keep students safer in the hallways, providing less chance and cover for bullying, Ouellette said. It could also make it easier to see a threat coming.

Administration has continued to work with law enforcement to keep up with best practices, transitioning from the former technique of shelter in place, to the newer training that focuses on run, hide, fight.

"We feel like we've done the best we can do to mitigate as much of the risks as we can," Ouellette said.

Duffy, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes St. Croix County, said schools need to have the ability to meet their own challenges with what fits in their own community, whether that be through officers on campus like in Hudson or armed teachers as discussed elsewhere.

"I think you know what's best for your school," he told Ouellette.

Finding benefits for student safety requires being thoughtful.

"It's important that each school assesses their needs individually," Duffy said.

Duffy also spoke with School Resource Officer Brent Ellwanger about the issues he sees while in the halls, from safety to issues like vaping.

The high school project as a whole — the lights, the security, the learning environment — makes for a remarkable facility, Duffy said.

In River Falls, representatives from the trade industry met Duffy at a unique job site, where they urged him to support technical-college and secondary-level programs.

The job site was a home under construction exclusively by Chippewa Valley Technical College's residential construction students. CVTC instructor Justin Borgwardt said students were wrapping the project this week after starting in September.

The program enrolls six students, but he said the college would like to expand it to 15 and that high school academies centered on the trades will help drive enrollment.

Borgwardt and others from CVTC urged Duffy in a letter to help fund technology education programs in Wisconsin's middle and high schools.

"Funding, scholarships and financial aid are vital to the success of the construction-related trades as well," a portion of the letter states.

River Falls-based Lund Builders Vice President and owner Tami Kuchera said graduates of those tech-college programs are in great demand, even though the industry doesn't always register on students' radars.

"This is really viable," she said.

And entry into the industry is virtually automatic, Borgwardt said. He told Duffy that for construction firms, "it's not who can I hire, it's how many can I hire?"

Others, including New Richmond-based Bird Plumbing owner Shaun Bird, told Duffy the value of a trades-based education can be greatly underrated. He said his son's friends have demonstrated a clear acumen for the trades, but generally don't deviate from the four-year college plan.

"I'm like, 'guys, you're missing the boat,'" Bird told Duffy.

Duffy told the group that "this is the story everywhere" and urged attendees to apply pressure at the local level to generate support for technology programs and youth apprenticeships.

But, he said, don't expect the federal government to take an active role in marketing those efforts.

"You guys have to sell it in your own community," Duffy said.