ABB donates $1 million for Fort Smith Schools center.

ABB donates $1 million for Fort Smith Schools center.

FORT SMITH — A local project with a focus on workforce development received further financial backing.

Jesse Henson, president of the NEMA Motors Division for ABB, announced ABB would donate $1 million to the School District during an event Monday. Henson said the money will be used to buy advanced manufacturing equipment for the district’s Peak Innovation Center.

The Peak Innovation Center, which is due to open in August in collaboration with the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, will provide career and technology education for high school students across 22 regional school districts, in addition to district-specific visual arts programming, according to a prior School District news release.

Gary Udouj, director of career education and district innovation for the School District, said the first phase of the center will focus on programs in advanced manufacturing, information technology and health sciences.

Tim Allen, president and chief executive officer of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the goal of the Peak Center project has always been to increase the available workers in Fort Smith and the River Valley to fill the jobs of the 21st century.

“We have great students that can compete anywhere,” Allen said. “All they need are the skills to compete, and that’s what Peak Innovation’s going to do. We have to prepare them for the world of work.”

Henson said one of the primary benefits of the center will be that high school students will get “real world learning on state-of-the-art equipment” from instructors from the industry who will understand how to use it.

District Superintendent Terry Morawski said the equipment to be purchased will consist of hands-on and process control simulators, among other things.

“These high-tech devices will teach the skills that are needed by the industry to have a successful career for our students in the ever-changing workplace,” Morawski said.

The Peak Center is one of the projects in the School District’s Vision 2023 capital improvement program, being paid by a millage increase Fort Smith and Barling residents approved in May 2018. The increase, which moved the district property tax rate by 5.558 mills, from 36.5 to 42.058, will generate about $120 million and was the first of its kind in Fort Smith since 1987.

Udouj said outside of the millage, the School District has received about $8 million for the Peak Center between donations and grants from outside sources.

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