By Sherry Larson
defender of the people
I can’t go back – I’m not where I was then (adapted from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland). The building at 107 E. Walnut Street, West Union, formerly known as Prather’s IGA and originally owned by Chase Prather and then his son, Jay and his wife Leah, is not the same location as a year ago . The transformation is inspiring and attributed to the efforts and vision of the Adams County Board of Commissioners Ty Pell, Diane Ward, Barbara Moore, Adams County Economic and Community Development Manager, Holly Johnson, TSHD Architect, David Stone and WAI Project Manager, Carlos Stapleton. Johnson also notes that many agencies have provided financial support and commitment.
The design is open, clean and industrial – a blank slate. Holly Johnson says, “We wanted white space; we wanted it to be inclusive. We didn’t want to have any barriers in terms of people using that space. The County Board of Commissioners owns the building, which it purchased with DP&L’s training dollars. The commissioners wanted to be sure they were using the donated dollars for legacy projects, so when the Prather building became available for purchase, they took those funds to pay for it. Commissioner Diane Ward added: “We are seeking additional funds to purchase the necessary equipment for welding and classroom equipment.
They are marketing to schools in the area who might want to lease the building to provide training and education so that the facility is accredited. Once a school and accreditation is secured, they will begin classes. Instruction will be available to anyone over the age of 18. Another crucial element is the availability of the center to the public with the open-style cafe and potential one-time community involvement classes not requiring certification. These classes may include cooking classes, public seminars, and hands-on workshops.
The project began in the Board of Commissioners office and moved to Johnson’s office with TSHD architects and an intern developing vision boards. Upon entering the building, people find a sizable common area which will include a receptionist area. Located at the front are financial aid and the school office. There are two classes of nurses. The public indoor cafe has a row of windows looking out to neighboring classrooms. This transparent component allows visitors to see what is happening in the training programs and hopefully generates interest and participation. Johnson says, “The problem is, it’s the people’s building, so let them see what we’re doing.” There is a computer room and a computerized numerical control room. A work room is opposite which has less light, which facilitates screen work. The Welding Lab is the most complicated of the classrooms and will take the longest to get up and running.
The exposed cafe area includes space perfect for a bakery, and customers can watch the kitchen as they order in the open plan area. They can sit in the indoor cafe or enjoy the outdoors in the scenic outdoor courtyard. Johnson explained that COVID has taught them the importance of being prepared, and the al fresco dining area and cafe’s open concept are the result. The establishment houses student and public toilets. The exterior of the building features murals painted by Pamela Kellough and paid for by a private donor. The mural is interactive on the outdoor dining side and can be used for fun photo ops. The large parking lot allows for lineman and forklift training. Particular attention is paid to details regarding safety and security inside and outside the establishment.
The design of the building allows rooms to be separated, divided and moved. Johnson explained, “We don’t know what you’ll need twenty years from now, so we wanted to be able to make everything interchangeable.” The design offers any school that rents it to add their emblem to the large focal wall. Johnson said, “We needed them to be able to create their own space.” The goal is for people to be amazed when they walk through the door. The design team nailed it! They also left traces of when the store belonged to Prather. Johnson explained, “We wanted to leave some historical markers because Chase Prather and his family have been so good to the community. It was important to leave some architectural details of the store knowing that the past opens the door to the future. The stone in the entrance displays Prather’s name and the date he opened the store.
The Education Center is an opportunity for Adams County adults to receive an education in the heart of West Union. Johnson shares that she’s moved a post-it note from month to month over the past twelve years as an economics director that reads “Adult Education,” symbolizing it as a priority. Commissioner Ty Pell said: “We have the opportunity to train our local workforce. These possibilities have been our vision since the beginning of the project. They will be able to transition from a $12-$15 an hour job to a $25-$30 an hour job with some of the certifications we can provide. Johnson added, “My granddaughters will be able to graduate from high school and come in here and continue their education. This training center is a first for Adams County. We wanted everyone to see the educational opportunities here. If you see it and it becomes a part of your life, you know it’s possible to get it. And that is the whole objective of the Adult Training Center. We want to make sure that we haven’t failed people and that we are there to support them. Some high school students will graduate from the Vocational and Technical Center. Pell said, “Hopefully we can work with CTC and get a program where they can start in high school and move on to the Adams County Training Center for more advanced certification that will give them a professional career.”
Johnson also described the goal of making tuition a lump sum that would include possible necessary items such as steel-toed boots, helmets and uniforms. The hope is to coordinate this with the leasing school. Otherwise, Ohio Mean Jobs will complement this component.
The Board of Commissioners and Johnson believe the Prather Building was worth saving. First, the renovation was cost effective compared to a new structure. Second, everyone in town can walk there for school and lunch. And that makes sense for economic growth. “When you work in economic development, you want to market in the county; you want to be able to recruit in new companies. When you market to them, they’ll ask, “What’s your workforce?” They also ask if you can get a trained workforce for them. Before the academy I had to say I could send them to Maysville or Portsmouth. Now we can train them here in Adams County,” Johnson said. “For example, the new tooling company coming into the county needs staff trained in tooling. The computerized numerical control program can train employees to go to work there. Ward agreed to say, “We will have more industries with the Winchester Industrial Park. We can train these people and they can stay in the county. We want our workforce to stay here in Adams County and not be forced out of the county. We also want to provide training for new employees of established companies. Commissioner Barbara Moore echoed, “For many years, local employers and other stakeholders have called for more workforce development and training. The Adams County Training Center will help us better prepare Adams County residents for the job market and ensure our workforce is ready to meet the demands of regional employers. This project is something we can be proud of.
Johnson concluded, “The structure removed the barriers. It’s a blank page. My wish for the Adams County Training Center is coming true here. We want the people of Adams County to understand that this is their future. We did this for them.