AEP Ohio is donating $15,000 to Tri-State STEM+M Academy in Lawrence County to help upgrade its classroom facilities. The funds will be used to weatherize an unfinished portion of a neighboring warehouse – offered rent-free by the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) for the past five years – that will provide additional open lab space, classrooms and a technology area for students learning about engineering.

The warehouse is an ideal setting for group work. Sixty percent of the building is fully finished; unfortunately, the unused portion has no heating, air conditioning, insulation and other necessary safety protections.

For the 87 students who attend the STEM school, the 16,000-foot warehouse is an ideal setting for working through problem-based group learning activities. It’s also served as the site for the music program’s choir practices, the theater program’s play rehearsals and other large group meetings. Sixty percent of the building is fully finished; unfortunately, the unused portion has no heating, air conditioning, insulation and other necessary safety protections.

“It gets really hot in the summer and really cold in the winter,” said LEDC Executive Director Bill Dingus, who spearheaded the partnership with AEP Ohio and has been a big part of the academy’s building acquisition and construction. “They do have overhead garage doors that open up so that provides some relief. But unfortunately during those times the students tend to just avoid the space.”

Losing 6,000 feet of real estate during adverse weather is a big blow to a school that has outgrown its existing facility and is financially strapped. Founded in 2013, the Tri-State STEM+M Academy doesn’t qualify for any local tax or levy funds and has depended on local donations and fundraising events.

AEP Ohio’s contribution will only go partway toward the $50,000 needed to fully complete the construction. Still, it’s a step in the right direction for the science and engineering programs in which open mechanical lab space is essential.

“The students there are all very bright and they do well. They’re entrepreneurial and very competent,” Dingus said. “Just last year they had a team from the school win first place and $7,500 cash in the ‘Dare to Dream’ business challenge. They even went ahead and started the business.

“The ingenuity of young people is incredible. But a huge amount of volunteers and small donors is needed to make everything happen. That’s why the help of AEP Ohio and others like it is so important to this process.”

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