Five La Grande High School students spent their Christmas break doing the paradoxical.

The students earned wages while helping the La Grande School District save thousands of dollars. The LHS students, working at the Barreto Manufacturing plant near Hot Lake and at the La Grande-Union County Airport Industrial Park, helped construct welding booths for the new career technical education building under construction at LHS.

The students were participating in a project that will save the La Grande School District $11,500 on the price of constructing the welding booths. The project has been made possible by major help from Barreto Manufacturing
and about half a dozen other businesses that donated materials.

“The community response we have received in support of our students is very exciting,” said LHS Assistant Principal Scott Carpenter.

The LHS students were paid by Barreto Manufacturing for their work over Christmas break. Barreto Manufacturing provided space for the work, supervision and some labor, all free of charge. Those who donated materials for the welding booths were Jim Richards of Cross L Welding and Fabrication in La Grande, EMJ Metals of Los Angeles, Farwest Steel of Eugene, Oregon Metal Slitters of Portland and Cd’A Metals of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The donations by these companies, Carpenter said, were all arranged by Barreto Manufacturing.

Carpenter said $16,000 had been budgeted for the welding booths by the school district until the ompanies stepped forward to assist. The total cost will now be about $4,500.

LHS junior Logan Atkinson said that working on the project at Barreto Manufacturing has been fun and fulfilling.

“This is awesome. We are getting a great experience,” Atkinson said.

Alexis Shaffer, also an LHS junior, said she welcomed the chance to develop her welding skills.

“We are learning how to weld like professionals. It is great,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer and Atkinson worked on the project with fellow LHS students Eleanor Des Jardin, Vinny Fregulia and Ty Gover.

Bob Walker, production supervisor for Barreto Manufacturing, said the objective of his company’s participation in the project was twofold.

“We enjoy giving back to the community,” Walker said.

In addition, Walker said his company hopes to deepen its labor pool by getting local young people interested in trades like welding.

“We have a hard time finding skilled employees,” Walker said.

Barreto employees who assisted the LHS students with the welding project were Joe Combe, Clint Hudson, Brian Johnson and Dean Hatley.

The welding booths, which are being finished this week, will be significantly better than what LHS previously had.

The new booths have more space, which will allow students to do larger projects plus provide room to store equipment.

Previously, equipment had to be kept outside the booths, Carpenter said.

The CTE building that will contain the booths is set to be completed in February.

The building is being constructed with funds from the $31.85 million bond La Grande School District voters passed in 2014. The building, in addition to its state-of-the-art welding lab, will also have a biomedical program classroom, a business computer lab and space for a mechatronics program. Mechatronics blends mechanics, electronics and engineering.

The new structure will replace an old CTE building that was torn down last summer. The building was in poor condition and much smaller. LHS’s welding program now has room to grow with the help of the new building, Carpenter said.

“It will be a quantum leap for our welding shop,” Carpenter said.