It’s hard to imagine how far the Portage Lakes Career Center has come since the 1970s. Now in its 35th year, the PLCC has grown in many ways, through changing technologies and economic climates.
Founders of the area vocational school took on a major responsibility in August of 1974, when Coventry, Green and Manchester residents approved a levy that would fund the building of a school to provide technical training to area students. The early days of the school, which was originally called Portage Lakes Joint Vocational School, are looked upon with fond memories by all who helped to build it, literally, from the ground up.
The school’s first superintendent, Ken Richards, thinks of it as a happy time in his career, which included working for Akron Public Schools, the Ohio Department of Education and Indiana University.
“You can talk about the machines and mechanics and technology all you want,” Richards said. “But we were just very fortunate to have a good bunch of people. First of all, we had a good board and second of all, we had a great teaching staff.”
Paul G. Baker of Coventry was part of that original board. Having spent 16 years on the board of Coventry Local Schools, Baker was joined by several other area board members to find a location and develop programs that would become the career center. Baker and the members of the board worked to develop the center before its official opening in September of 1977.
“We felt that there was an alternative to going to college and an ability to earn more money by being skilled in certain trades,” Baker said. “There are plenty of other people that make as much money as a lot of college graduates. It fills a very definite need in the educational realm,” he said.
Baker remembers a time when the school’s Shriver Road location was just 47 acres of empty field. He was present, along with Richards and the entire board, at the building’s groundbreaking in 1975.
It wasn’t until 1991 that the board of education would approve a resolution to enlarge the district to include students from Springfield High School. The original 118,00 square-foot school, which housed 15 classrooms and 15 skills areas, has now expanded to include a state of the art nursing wing.
Adult guidance counselor Ginny Hill is the only original staff members at PLCC. She is what staffers call a “planky” or a “plank-holder,” a term coined by the school’s original director, to designate employees who had been part of the original organization.
“When I was hired the building wasn’t quite finished,” Hill remembers.
Hill began her career at PLCC teaching cooperative office education, a program that focusedon teaching students how to succeed in an office environment, relying heavily on skills like typing and filing. That program has since changed significantly, now boasting skills training in fields like computer technology, programming and software development.
Page 2 of 2 - “Programs have evolved,” Hill said, remembering that there were a few programs at the school’s inception that have since fallen by the wayside. “We had marine maintenance and diesel mechanics.”
Hill, along with Richards and Baker, remember the marine maintenance program as one of the few in the state. The program offered education on marine motors and fiberglass repair. Hill said the school assumed this program would be successful, yielding a high amount of jobs for recent graduates due to the area in which the school is located, but it didn’t pan out quite that way. Richards felt a loss when the program closed.
“It was a good program, I thought,” Richards said. “But we just couldn’t maintain that. I was always a little disappointed that we didn’t keep it going,” he said.
PLCC’s current superintendent, James Brown said the school won’t be celebrating their anniversary with any formal event this year, but that he hopes the community will recognize its longevity.
“We’re trying to help create awareness that we’ve been here this long. We just wanted to recognize that,” Brown said. After having worked at PLCC for 17 years, Brown said he is beginning to see a second generation of students succeeding at the career center and considers that one of the most rewarding aspects of his career.
“My first year of students are now starting to see their children come here and so from my point of view I can see that people have been successful in their life because of what’s happened in this school,” he said.
“We’re just glad to be here,” Brown said. “We’re going to try to serve that need in the community for high school and adult students that need a different career path.”
Brown said his personal goal is to make sure the school has continued success, and he hopes to see it reach another 35 years.