Herald Photos / Kate Crabtree
HANDS ON  — Shelby Fanning measures a bracket during installation of the fence at Walter Cross Field.
Herald Photos / Kate Crabtree HANDS ON — Shelby Fanning measures a bracket during installation of the fence at Walter Cross Field.
Over the last several years, the facility at Walter Cross Field at Kokomo High School has evolved. 

The first dirt was turned over in 2011 when the school added new home locker rooms, followed in 2012 by a new concession stand, enlarged restroom facility, and visitors’ locker room. When the concessions building was created, a new seating area was put up to enhance the overall look of the plaza, and members of the welding class at the Kokomo Area Career Center (KACC) were the ones called upon to create pieces for the stadium that would add aesthetic value and comfort to the many fans entering the complex.

The welding students, under the supervision of Brian Mikesell, already had fabricated and created a series of small fences for the City of Kokomo that were installed along Apperson Way in front of Memorial Gymnasium. Once that project was complete, the students began work on their first contributions to Walter Cross Field. 

“Dr. Hauswald came to us, probably five years ago,” Mikesell said. “He said they were going to start this project [at the football field], so we started with the lattice work and the benches.”

The students crafted three lattice trellises that bear the letters “K,” “H,” and “S” that were installed just outside of the visitor locker rooms. The lattices serve as a strong focal point amongst flowers and bushes. Just across from those sit benches that were created by the students. 

The next project was working with the construction class on building pieces for games that were added to the Walter Cross Field project under the new press box that was constructed in 2015. The students began work on creating the fencing that would envelope the entire complex, as well as the fence that surrounds the track.

“We started that two years ago,” Mikesell said. “We had to figure out how to bend a 186-degree radius into a panel to fit into that. It mimics the track.”

Students in the class installed the fence around the track last fall. The bent fencing spells out “Kokomo Wildkats,” as it wraps around the south end of the track. An identical fence soon will be needed for the north end of the track. Mikesell said the layout of that fence will present its own challenge during fabrication.

“They’ve done several projects out at the football field from the benches to trellises to the fence. In addition to the fence, which they not only fabricated but also installed it, the kids got the experience of, not only creating and building the fence, but installing it after it was sent to be powder coated since we don’t have that here,” KACC Director Johnathan Shuck said. 

“If it’s steel, we did it. We didn’t put the steel posts in, but everything else – all the gates, all the panels, all the brackets – we made,” added Mikesell.

Shuck said the ongoing project is great experience for the students, as they have been able to work on the various projects from the ground up.

“You’re not going to find welding programs that not only learn to fabricate metal objects on this scale, but we’re talking fences that are being used on football fields,” Shuck said. “The kids have enjoyed taking ownership in creating something that will be there hopefully for a lifetime. Any time you give kids experience of creating a product, there is much more motivation and ownership in that. It has been great that Dr. Hauswald and the school corporation has been open and supportive of our welding program and involving them in these projects. Typically, the kids learn how to weld, but they don’t fabricate or install.”

Hauswald echoed Shuck’s sentiment.

“The current fencing project is but one more example of welding students taking community needs and then working with community leaders to design, build, and oftentimes install products of their creation. These opportunities greatly increase students’ number of welds and the types of welds learned. These experiences enhance the expertise, training, and level of talent developed by our Kokomo Area Career Center welding students, which in turn, leads to more successful careers after graduation,” he said.

Some of the money the school is saving on outsourcing the metal work is being put back into the students. Scholarships have been made available to some, which some will use to attend Hobart Institute to continue learning their craft and network for jobs.

“Welding is a high-wage, high-demand job, and our welding program at the Kokomo Area Career Center excels at preparing students for either post-secondary educational training or jobs, but usually both,” Hauswald said.

“This stuff really propels them into the job market because no one fabricates anymore,” said Mikesell. “I enjoy seeing the kids go from start to finish but I really enjoy seeing the kids get jobs. Kids built this nation. They can build anything. They’re smarter than we ever were.”

Mikesell said in addition to the students learning to create each piece from concept to reality, they have been able to meet with and work with some of the engineers on the project.

His class size has grown exponentially since Mikesell joined KACC. He said when he took the job 10 years ago there were eight kids signed up for welding. He now has more than 132 students with about 300 students working on the various projects over the last six years.