Michael Verdun and Austin Einhaus, two seniors in Jodi Lancaster's advanced welding class at the Livingston Area Career Center, have teamed up with Pete Giovanini, vice president of Giovanini Metals, to construct two new press boxes for Williamson Field.
Recognizing the current press box is reaching the end of its lifespan, Pontiac Township High School Supt. Jon Kilgore and his staff began to research some options.
"The weight of a double-stack design was putting too much pressure on the foundation and we knew we had to repair that," Kilgore said. "While considering our options, we decided it was time to look into a different style of press box because the structure needed to be redesigned anyway.
"With that in mind, I have always been fascinated with the concept of repurposing shipping containers. In my research, I've found they have many uses outside of shipping. There are even modern houses that were created from shipping containers."
Kilgore shared his re-purposed shipping container idea with high school's Facilities Director John Tibbs. Combining Tibbs's background and experience as a contractor with some of Kilgore's ideas, the duo soon came up with a plan. The plan was brought to the school's architect and after it was approved, the purchasing research phase of the project began.
"We ended up purchasing containers from The Storage Spot Storage in Bloomington," Kilgore said. "We hand-picked the containers, they have only been used one time and are an extra foot tall. So, they are in near-pristine condition."
With the containers purchased, the next step was to find someone to do the welding work. The high school chose Giovanini Metals in Pontiac. Supt. Kilgore also spoke with LACC Director Tera Graves and the career center's welding instructor Jodi Lancaster about enlisting two students, Verdun and Einhaus, to help with the project.
"Pontiac Township High School approached us after they started looking at their current press box and talking about what was going to be done," Giovanini said. "They knew that the new press boxes were going to be made out of metal and one of the administrators thought, 'What a perfect opportunity to have our students working on and gaining real world experience.'"
"Jodi Lancaster knew of two students who were capable of stepping into a professional environment and could handle the real-world experience. So she chose Michael and Austin. They came in, we all sat down and went over the safety aspects and the expectations that we have. They understood it and agreed to it."
Since the start of the semester, which began after winter break ended on Jan. 3, Einhaus and  Verdun have been showing up at Giovanini Metals at 6:30 a.m. each school day. Giovanini, who is also a graduate of PTHS and the LACC's welding program, said things started out slowly for the students.
"The first two days we did a lot of safety instruction," he said. "We talked about how to put everything away, precautions and operations in the building. I wasn't nervous to have the high school students working with us. Twenty-five years ago, I was one of these students. So, I knew what it was going to be like, as a student coming into a professional work environment.
"The only difference is, when I came here, I was coming in to work with family. When I first started, I knew to stay back and not get too involved with what other workers were doing and these guys seem to have that awareness, too. They know exactly when it is appropriate to ask for help."
One unexpected benefit for Giovanini is that teaching requires him to go back over his processes and procedures.
"We have a lot of habits that we take for granted because we've been doing them for so many years," Giovanini said. "Having interns on-site means you have to really remember why we do it this way and be able to relate that to the students."
Giovanini Metals employs six people at two locations. One shop is focused on welding and repair and the other focuses on fabrication and material processing. The students are currently working at the fabrication shop at 603 N. Crain St.
"This is our final semester of welding at the LACC, so we had already been thinking about future places to go and work," Verdun said. "I think the experience has been eye-opening and has really helped us narrow down what we want to do for a living."
Both boys were initially nervous about the internship but became comfortable with the environment quickly.
"Now it just feels like going to work in the morning," Verdun said. "We do a lot more hands-on work here, compared to in school where you're just working on class projects. It makes more of a difference when you're doing something for other people that will last for years and years. Working on the press box for the high school is a pretty big honor. It will be cool to go back years later, look at it and think, 'I helped build that.'"
Giovanini reports that phase one, the press box portion of the project, is almost complete. Once the press boxes are finished and shipped to the school, the next phase is to start on the base structure, which will hold the press boxes up.
"That will be another possibly month-long process," Giovanini said. "We're going to build all of those in modules so that when we truck them to the school, a crane will lift and set the pieces in position. Once the base is complete, the container will be ready to be set on top of the base. The container will sit on a subframe, which is mounted to the base of the structure."
Kilgore said construction at Williamson Field will be going on throughout track season and into the summer in an effort to have the new press box ready to go for the football season.