By Crystal Burns
A new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning) lab at Peabody High School will soon put students to work in high-paying jobs.
Two groups toured the PHS Pathways HVAC Technology Center last week. Jerry Kirsch, manager of Johnson Controls Institute, showed off the lab for the Trenton Special School District board on Feb. 11 and the PHS Career-Technical Education (CTE) Advisory Council on Feb. 13.
In 2019, the school board hired Johnson Controls for an energy efficiency project that included lighting and water upgrades district-wide, HVAC replacements at the elementary and middle schools, some roofing repairs, and the HVAC lab. The energy savings from the upgrades should generate enough funds to free up utility and supply money to make the lease payments.
Director of Schools Tim Haney told Hirsch at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting that Johnson Controls’ ability to create the HVAC lab was a huge selling point as the board sifted through contractors specializing in energy efficiency projects.
“The lab at our high school will offer an unparalleled opportunity for our students to become better prepared for the future workforce,” Haney said.
Johnson Controls projects the district will realize over $5.1 million in project benefits, which are guaranteed over the life of the 20-year agreement.
Ready to work
Kirsch has worked with John Hodgson, president of Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Jackson, and John Carter, HVAC instructor, to create the curriculum for Peabody. He has also helped Michael Allen, Peabody agriculture teacher, and Tony Kash, TSSD maintenance specialist, get the training they need to teach the courses beginning in August.
Students will learn to troubleshoot and fix problems on commercial and residential HVAC equipment. The lab includes mostly commercial equipment, but teachers will bring in smaller units to help students learn.
“The big stuff works similar to the small stuff, but we want to train students on both,” Kirsch said.
Students will have opportunities to earn a multitude of certifications to help them land jobs as building maintenance specialists, green HVAC mechanics/technicians, facility controls technicians, and facility maintenance electricians.
Kirsch said those jobs are high-paying, interesting, and in demand.
“It’ll never get to the point where we don’t need HVAC technicians,” Kirsch said. “This job is never going to be outsourced to another country. The [HVAC] tech has to be in the building.”
Kirsch said the HVAC field is complex and utilizes technology, making it an ideal choice for students who like working with their hands and computers. Instead of demanding that students memorize a myriad of terms, Johnson Controls instructors provide them with “cheat sheets” and test students on their ability to find the problem and fix it.
“This is a very hands-on related course,” Kirsch said.
Kirsch has already met with representatives of several local HVAC businesses to gauge their interest in hiring Peabody students as interns or apprentices once the program gets off the ground. Kirsch said their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as the HVAC field is expected to grow 13% over the next 10 years. The average job growth over that time is estimated at 5%.
The lab, located in an extension of the Peabody agriculture shop, puts the school and Trenton in rare company. Kirsch said Johnson Controls is currently working with other schools across the country, but the Peabody lab makes only two cities – Trenton and Philadelphia – to have its HVAC labs.
CTE Director June McCourt said she and Allen have 17 students signed up for the course in the fall. McCourt said the CTE program is also working to establish a welding course that would provide another pipeline for Peabody students to find high-paying jobs in another in-demand career field.
McCourt said that MacLean Power Systems in Trenton has agreed to provide jobs to four Peabody students beginning in August. McCourt has already recruited the students. Two will work at MacLean in the morning and take classes at Peabody in the afternoon. The other two will attend school in the morning and work at MacLean in the afternoon.
McCourt said MacLean offered to take more students, but she wants to test the new program first.
For more information on the HVAC lab or Peabody CTE program, contact McCourt at 731-855-1217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.