Brown County High School’s Eagle Manufacturing celebrated the completion of its new manufacturing space earlier this month with a ribbon-cutting event that took place during the school day.
The April 12 event gave the students enrolled in the program the opportunity to spend time with John and Sarah Lechleiter, who made the project possible for the school community.
The Lechleiters and the White Oak Foundation funded the expansion project, which converted six classrooms in the Educational Resource Center to create the new space for Eagle Manufacturing, previously housed in multiple rooms at the high school.
The conversion of the classrooms includes all new mechanical upgrades, including lighting, HVAC and electrical systems. New epoxy flooring was installed throughout the space, as well as an added office space for students and advisors in the program.
An enlarged shipping and receiving area was also part of the expansion, and corridor walls were opened up in the building, adding interior windows to give staff complete visibility of the space for instruction and supervision of the students.
The new space also allows more students to be involved, creating a central location for the whole program.
“With a central location, the advisors now have better visibility to oversee student activities, provide more instruction, and encourage collaboration,” Brown County Schools Emily Tracy said in a press release.
Eagle Manufacturing was founded in 2017 as a single-student extracurricular venture. According to the release, that single student’s passion generated the interest of others which developed into today’s student-run manufacturing business at the high school.
At its core, the Eagle Manufacturing program supports students in learning “employable” life and technical skills in a real-world workplace environment. Over the years, it has become very popular, and the school recognized the need to expand so more students could participate.
Tracy said that Eagle Manufacturing advisor Chris Townsend and his team are building out a legacy of opportunity for the program.
“I am incredibly grateful for their vision and dedication to redesigning high school for our students,” Tracy said.
“I will forever be humbled by John and Sarah Lechleiter for taking an interest in our programs at Brown County Schools. This project could not have come to fruition without their support and the collaboration from the Brown County Community Foundation. These are world class opportunities that have been fostered by small school relationships, leaving a lifelong impact.”
Townsend said last week that the program’s expansion will never be done.
“I say that in jest but also in seriousness,” he said.
“That’s why we are where we are, we are always looking to improve and provide more opportunities to our kids and our students in the program. This is a huge leap forward for us, obviously, but we’re always looking to improve and change so it’s never going to be done, it’s always a work in progress.”
Townsend said they anticipate having the vast majority of what they had planned for the new space in place by the end of the school year. Currently, the construction of the space is complete, and students have been able to utilize most of the new features, but some equipment — such as the mills, lathes and laser engravers — are still being professionally installed.
“So, end of next month, we’ll be at least as functional as we anticipated being,” he said.
Story continues below gallery
A dream realized
According to Townsend, Brown County students have had a couple hundred customers over the lifetime of Eagle Manufacturing.
In the program, students have the opportunity to communicate with those customers to design, fabricate and ship out a multitude of products.
Promotional items are a large part of business, including signage and apparel.
Townsend said the students have the tools to create nearly any kind of outdoor or indoor signage, including banners, yard signs, street signs, permanent signs, memorial signs and posters.
For apparel, students take on screen-printing and embroidery for items like t-shirts, polos, and hats.
“And then we also do personalized products,” Townsend said.
“So, laser-engraved products — we do a decent amount of tumblers, custom drinkware, keychains, other custom items like plaques and awards, things of that nature.”
The new space was “built from the ground up” for Eagle Manufacturing.
“The layout, all the electrical, all the HVAC, everything is designed specifically for our purpose,” he said.
“In our old space, it was designed as a shop space — traditional technology education, career tech education, lab space. For the most part, it worked really well, but as we grew, we didn’t have enough space in a singular room, so we ended up being in four to five rooms at once.”
Townsend said the physical separation of those rooms made things like writing procedures and supervising the students difficult to do well.
The renovation of the new space came along fairly quickly, Townsend said.
“John (Lechleiter) came in and toured with our students and decided he wanted to help us grow,” Townsend said.
“He and his wife and their foundation were generous enough to fund this, which is incredible. We are eternally grateful to them for allowing us to make our dreams a reality.”
Townsend described Eagle Manufacturing’s dreams to be providing a way for students at the high school level to be put into real-world learning and work environments, where they can develop and implement employability skills.
“Those employability skills — things like problem solving, positive attitude, work ethic, going above and beyond, all of those things that any employer is dying to have in their employees — are the things that Eagle Manufacturing was created to help develop in our students,” Townsend said.
“The program literally exists for that reason — for kids to have an environment that they can learn and build those skills in, because its hard to ‘teach’ those skills — you can’t tell somebody to have a good work ethic, you can’t tell somebody to have a positive attitude — you have to put them in an environment where they can recognize a scenario, they can recognize certain things and implement them, actually do them in the real-world.”
Looking forward, Townsend said the program now has the space to get more students involved, which was one of the biggest goals of the expansion in the first place.
He added that students have to create and submit resumes, then go through an interview process to join Eagle Manufacturing.
“Yes, we are a student-run business,” Townsend said.
“Yes, our jobs are ‘profitable.’ But, all of that income that comes from those jobs, outside our costs — materials costs, maintenance and upkeep, and new equipment and all that — everything outside of that is reinvested back into Eagle Manufacturing, to provide more opportunities to our students.”
Those opportunities include bring students to conferences across the country, where they represent the school, the business and their clients. A few recent conference locations include Chicago and San Antonio.
Townsend added that since Eagle Manufacturing is a real business, dealing with real customers and real money there are stakes involved. Those stakes are also a valuable learning opportunity to prepare students for whatever career they chose.
“If they scrap 300 shirts, we have to eat that cost,” he said.
“We go through and have to discuss the ramifications of that and what impacts that has. There are real stakes, and they have to work with others to solve those problems and figure out what caused them.”
Townsend summarized the purpose of Eagle Manufacturing as a way to give Brown County students a leg up.
“A leg up, so when they graduate, they are far away and beyond the vast majority of their peers,” he said.
“No matter what career, no matter what path they take after high school, the skills they are going to learn and develop in Eagle Manufacturing are going to apply no matter what they do.”