MOREAU — The town is saving about $15,000 as high school students clear a site for the new handicapped-accessible playground.
The universal playground will be built in Betar Park, between the pavilion and a basketball court. It was fully forested a month ago, but 87 BOCES students who are learning to operate heavy equipment have removed all the trees and are now leveling the ground.
The students are all from high schools in the southern Adirondacks, taught by the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. All of them plan to get a certification by graduation that allows them to operate everything from bulldozers to excavators.
But passing that test — similar to a driving test — requires practice. BOCES instructors were thrilled to develop a partnership with the town of Moreau to get space to use those vehicles.
“A lot of it is seat time,” said heavy equipment instructor Randy Weeks. “Just learning how to get your RPMs and travel speed correlated to get a nice level grade, they just need time doing it. This was a very exceptional opportunity for the students.”
They worked on the site four days a week this spring, weather permitting. The town is paying only for fuel.
They’ve also built a soccer field at the park, and may later work on clearing an abandoned trail near the river, which the town recently purchased.
By June, they were all operating the equipment confidently, even as a photographer climbed on dirt nearby to take photos of them in action. They were even learning how to fix equipment when items broke down.
“They saw, start to finish, everything we go over in school,” Weeks said.
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He is very pleased.
“The stigma that BOCES has that maybe they’re underachieving students — very untrue. They are smart,” he said. “Tradespeople are needed across the board. They’ll go right into industry, making $50,000 to $70,000 a year.”
The students are ready. Thomas Ross, 18, of Indian Lake, earned his commercial driving license this year. His CDL-B license allows him to drive dump trucks and straight trucks, as well as a bus at age 21. There are dozens of local advertisements looking for drivers for those vehicles.
Some students are planning to work for a municipal highway department. Others want to use their driving or mechanic skills in the military.
Chris Barrett, 17, of Salem, plans to translate his skill on the excavator to helicopter work in the Army.
“My favorite piece of equipment to run is probably the big excavator, because it’s a lot of different motions at once. You kind of have to have a flow,” he said. “You have to use two joysticks at once.”
He also enjoyed afternoons of working with dozens of students from the region. In Salem, from kindergarten through 10th grade, his took his classes with the same 30 students.
“Here you’re getting to know different people,” he said. “Coming here with a lot of different schools opens your eyes.”
Nick Mattison, 17, of Hartford, wants to work for state, plowing roads in winter and patching them in summer.
“I’ve always loved doing manual work,” he said. “It just makes me feel good that I got something accomplished.”