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The stars align for learning center at Linwood Mill

Suddenly, significantly, amid the most oppressive heat of early summer and after years of fits and starts, arrives the refreshing news that the “Blackstone Valley Education Hub” at the Linwood Mill will indeed finally burst onto the scene.

“We even have a logo!” Jeannie Hebert, the irrepressible president and CEO of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the afternoon of July 2nd in confirming that a learning center dedicated to preparing students for work in various aspects of manufacturing is earmarked for “a soft opening at the beginning of September;” and that “there is interest from the governor’s office” as that milestone moment is celebrated.

Gathered with Ms. Hebert for a meeting at which a firming up of specifics for the Blackstone Valley Education Hub was discussed were State Rep. Jeffrey N. Roy, Mark Lyons and Stasia E. Peters. Mr. Roy represents Massachusetts’ 10th Norfolk District (Franklin and Medway); Mr. Lyons is a technical advisor with AET Labs in Essex who possesses expertise in “career and technical labs, engineering education labs and digital fabrication labs;” Ms. Peters is the career and technical education director in the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District in Attleboro.

Realization of the objective of establishing what has transitioned into a trade-centric educational entity in the Blackstone Valley dates at least to the legislative days of former State Sen. Richard T. “Dick” Moore, who secured $350,000 as seed money for a satellite campus of Quinsigamond Community College in the region. Mr. Moore was first elected in 1996 and served nine terms, representing the Worcester-Norfolk district. Another Moore—Sen. Michael O. Moore of the 2nd Worcester District (no relation)—is now the lead person on nursing the Hub into being. Rep. David K. Muradian Jr. of the 9th Worcester District, Sen. Ryan Fattman (who succeeded Dick Moore in the 18th Worcester District seat) and Rep. Roy are Sen. Mike Moore’s cohorts on Beacon Hill in this initiative.

As chair of the Legislature’s manufacturing caucus, Rep. Roy is entitled to the enthusiasm he voices for creation of the Blackstone Valley Education Hub.

“When I heard about this I couldn’t wait to get out and see for myself,” he said. “There are tens of thousands of jobs in the offing. We have an Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative in the state, which will be renewed. The goal is to make Massachusetts the No. 1 state in the country for manufacturing.”

On a recent bicycle ride through the area, Rep. Roy said, “I saw a number of sandwich boards in front of businesses,” advertising employment opportunities. As a further incentive for his involvement in development of the Hub, he said “my grandfather lived at [nearby] Maple Ct. and worked at Whitin Machine Works.”

In expressing similar sentiments, Ms. Hebert said “every year about 650 students can’t get into Blackstone Valley Tech, and 3500 can’t get into vocational schools across the state. That’s every year. These kids need a leg up.” Her father “went to Boys Trade in Worcester and was certified as a machinist,” Ms. Hebert said.

Already home to such occupants as apartment dwellers, a barber shop, a liquor store, a restaurant, an insurance agency and a physical therapy studio, the Linwood Mill will take on a new tenant this fall with the addition of a learning center for students interested in careers in manufacturing.

Northbridge and Uxbridge students will be the immediate beneficiaries of the Hub’s classrooms and adjoining lab, which are situated in close proximity to the Chamber’s space at the Linwood Mill and made possible by acquisition of a $450,000 grant for equipment. Mr. Lyons’ skills in setting up the classrooms and labs are key to preparing the space, now being built out (with assistance from Valley tech students), for occupancy. “High-tech white boards and CAD-ready computers” will be central to the operation. But, Mr. Lyons said, “you don’t have to be logged in here.” Students will be able to work “remotely.”

Ms. Hebert pointed out that the Hub’s potential is enhanced by the prospect of adult learners having access to the classrooms and lab “at night and on weekends.” An advisory board comprised of manufacturers and higher-education personnel is guiding the project as it moves toward completion.

In short order, Rep. Roy, Ms. Hebert, Mr. Lyons and Ms. Peters said, the Hub will be turning out graduates poised to work as CAD technicians, machine operators, CNC programmers and lab technicians at such local employers as Lampin Corp., Lenze and Precision Engineering.

There is no reason to doubt that the Blackstone Valley Education Hub will at long last emerge as a reality, Mr. Lyons said, in offering assurance that the doors will open as scheduled.

“Active classes will begin in September!” he said.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.