By MARLA MCKENNA
Culpeper Star Exponent

Leon Fincher didn’t expect to see his name on the building that houses Culpeper’s new machinist school.

“Having my name on this building is a big surprise, probably the greatest honor I’ve had in my life,” Fincher said Friday, as the county cut the ribbon on the 3,000-square-foot facility, part of New Pathways Technology Training.

Fincher, head of Precision Machine Works in Culpeper, had been advocating for a local school to train skilled machinists in the region for about 25 years. After three years of intense planning and collaboration between numerous public and private entities, the dream came true.

“This is just a great day for workforce development for this county and surrounding counties,” Fincher said.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, called New Pathways a “pivotal program” for vocational education in the state.

“[Fincher] was envisioning a world where everyone gets a shot to rise,” Fairfax said.

The training facility, housed in the back building on the campus of the George Washington Carver School along U.S. 15, the school, will offer the latest in technology, thanks to numerous partnerships and grants.

It will also feature a fulltime instructor, Doug Beaver, who arrives with more than 20 years of machinist experience and six years as an educator. His salary will come through the Department of Human Services as part of a memorandum of agreement between the groups.

DHS invested $50,000 in start-up funds for the first year of operation and plans to provide additional classroom space for assessments, testing and basic math and reading preparatory classes.

Germanna Community College will also back the program, providing support, marketing and assistance with employment and certifications, if needed, said college president Janet Gullickson.

Gullickson, on Friday, quipped that her greatest achievement was marrying her machinist husband.

“This is an important day for Germanna,” she said. “We know machining is coming back in our country.”

The college president cited a statistic that 45 percent of people with a bachelor’s degree are unemployed or employed in a job that doesn’t require a degree.

Her advice for anyone interested in the field of machining or other vocational trades? “Take all the math they can in high school and get a job,” she said.

The Carver campus previously housed the Piedmont Vocational School, but the county closed it in the 1990s. Organizers of New Pathways are optimistic about the viability of the new program.

“There was contemplation about tearing this wonderful building down,” said Frank Bossio, a member of the board and former Culpeper County Administrator. Bossio said the country is in the midst of a resurgence of vocational training opportunities.

The program space, Bossio said, should be flexible enough to adapt to developing technology and provide changing schedules and curricula when necessary.

The idea behind New Pathways Tech, a nonprofit organization, is restoring the opportunity for hands-on learning through the teaching of basic machine shop skills applicable in all trades.

Fincher said students can eventually enroll in an 8,800 hour-four year program to become certified machinists, if they have the talent and drive, but the basic courses offered at the facility can set them on that path and help them secure employment while they train.

While the machinist school offers the latest in technology, including a $400,000 CMX1100 mill center donated by international company DMG MORI Furnished by DMG MORI.

Other businesses investing equipment in the venture include Morris South Inc. Machine Tool Distributor and Rigid Kollman, which operates a plant in Orange County. Precision Machine Works furnished the school with a clausing engine lathe, a vertical manual milling machine and a manual lathe. Dominion Air & Machinery provided several types of mills and lathes.

Fincher stressed the importance of students training on manual machines first, where they learn to set up jobs and understand “speeds, feeds and materials” associated with machining.

“Hopefully we will get a few good students out of this,” he said, grinning widely.