Waldo County Technical Center welding trades instructor Kevin McKenney stands next to the CNC plasma table donated to the program by University of Maine at Orono. Courtesy of WCTC

BELFAST — When Kevin McKenney joined Waldo County Technical Center two years ago as the welding trades instructor, he saw the need to update and align the program’s equipment with what the welding industry is currently using. Through his tireless efforts connecting with local and state businesses in the industry, along with private donors, the welding trades program has received numerous donations that are directly benefiting the students of Waldo County.  

John Belding from University of Maine at Orono’s advanced manufacturing program kicked off the plethora of donations with a Computerized Numerical Control plasma table with a plasma cutter power unit worth $30,000.  

John Thomas of Thomas Sawmills donated a spare plasma cutter power unit for the new CNC plasma table as well as many parts of consumable equipment to keep everything running smoothly. This donation encompassed many thousands of dollars. Thomas also donated large amounts of steel to WCTC, which has been used for eight grade Techsploration for the past two years. This donation enabled visiting middle schoolers to work hands on in the welding shop by creating geometrical steel cup holders.  

Tony Ayotte and Troy Twitchell of Cianbro Corporation worked with McKenney to help streamline the program with industry safety standards and provided countless cost saving tips to operate a well-balanced, industry respected weld training facility.  

WCTC’s Director Kevin A. Michaud and the Tech Center’s school board approved funding to ensure that the welding shop is electrically up to code, thus eliminating safety hazards. Nathan Wren, a WCTC alumnus from Liberty East  Electrical company worked speedily over the summer, doing an excellent, professional looking job to get the electrical improvements done before students arrived for the upcoming school year.  

Doug Frost and the team at Steel-Pro provided cutting edge steel demonstrations and lessons and also gave the school thousands of dollars in stainless steel welding wire and practice material for the students to grow past the boundaries set by the state’s minimum welding requirements. 

Bath Regional Career and Technical Center was instrumental in funneling overage supplies from Bath Iron Works into WCTC’s Welding Program.  

Community members with ties to the welding industry or WCTC have also made contributions to the program.  Elaine Higgins of Freedom donated many pounds of shielded metal arc welding electrodes from her late husband’s home metal shop. The Fournier family of Belfast, whose son Christopher is a second-year student in the welding trades program, donated countless pounds of accumulated metal treasures from Christopher’s grandfather’s shop. These treasures helped to jump start the art and sculpture portion of the welding trades program. The Fourniers also donated countless feet of stainless steel pipe that enabled students to pursue new employment opportunities.  

This impressive list of donations shows that it really does take a village to provide students with the supplies needed to have an excellent education. However, it also takes the vision of a passionate instructor. McKenney states that he wants every student coming out of the WCTC welding trades program to be the best qualified for college and the workforce. He would also like to incorporate basic conventional machine tool skills into his program, which only one other school in the state provides. This training will make students more desirable as new hires.  

Currently, students graduating from the program will be starting full time careers as welding and fabrication specialists in the pharmaceutical and food processing industries, making $25 an hour starting pay.