Construction underway on Washington High’s new boatbuilding facility

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, March 24, 2022

Ken Adams has been involved with boat building since a young age, getting his first taste of the profession by helping out in his father’s workshop.

Now a boatbuilding and carpentry teacher at Washington High School following more than 18 years in the boat manufacturing industry, Adams, a third-generation boat builder, enjoys passing on his knowledge and passion to local students. He’ll be able to do that at a more advanced level later this year when the school’s new 3,200-square-foot boatbuilding facility is complete.

The project’s completion is expected around the start of the 2022-23 school year, assuming there aren’t hiccups with supply availability. The new building is funded through the Golden LEAF Community-Based Grants Initiative. Golden LEAF in February 2019 awarded Beaufort County Schools $1,235,000 to expand career pathways by establishing education-to-work pipelines to high-demand employment opportunities.

In Beaufort County, home of nine boat manufacturers and neighbor to several more, a boatbuilding pipeline made sense — particularly with Beaufort County Community College now offering associates degrees in boatbuilding.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 stalled the project, but it is now back in motion. The facility’s main structure was coming together as of Thursday.

“This is the current facility we’ve had here for years and years,” Adams said, standing in the school’s existing workshop, a wing of the school building located a short distance from the construction site. “Nothing’s wrong with it, but it’s a little small for what we’re trying to do. So that’s why we’re really happy to get the other facility up and running. It’s going to provide us with a lot more workspaces.”

Adams has been at Washington High since 2014. He started teaching classes on carpentry, drafting and a selection of career and technical education introductory classes.

Knowing of Adams’ background in boatbuilding, Wendy Petteway, CTE director for BCS at the time, started talking with him about putting his experience to work.

“A lot has come down from the governor’s office and things like that in the last few years with manufacturing and getting STEM skills going and all that kind of stuff,” Adams said. “And (Petteway) said, “I think we can probably push this a little further. Let’s look at a local course option.’”
To get a sense of what such a program would look like, groups from BCS and BCCC toured the boatbuilding facility at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington.

“Everybody fell in love with it, which is easy to do down there because they’re on the water,” Adams said.

The state approved Washington High’s boatbuilding curriculum in 2019, and the first class was held in spring 2021.

“Of course it was small groups because of the pandemic to start with,” Adams said. “We’ve had four or five groups come through now, about 50 students to this point.”

Once students complete their required CTE core classes, they currently can take Boatbuilding I and Boatbuilding II under Adams’ tutelage. The breadth of concepts and projects those classes can cover will grow in the new building, in large part because of the added space. And with the addition of several pieces of heavy equipment over the years, Adams said the program needs more room — particularly with equipment like the computer numerical control machine, a robotic cutter that can help quickly produce boat parts.

With the heart of the pandemic behind them local boat manufacturers are pushing their recruitment efforts, and Adams said one of the goals of the program is to help fill those needs — whether it’s producing trained students who go on to further their education within BCCC’s program, or go directly into a job with one of the manufacturers.

And even if a career in boatbuilding isn’t on a student’s radar, Adams hopes the courses teach them concepts and skills they can apply later in life.

“They get skills they can use for other things around the home,” Adams said. “They can build a house, bookshelves, a shed in their backyard. … It’s just something a little bit different, something unique.”