Masonry school seeks to build interest
Avon – For the last few years, Stephen Mitchell has diligently worked on his vision
to create the Maine School of Masonry. First, he bought the original Lauri Toy Factory
on Route 4 and converted the space into a classroom, lab and offices.
Then, he offered masonry courses through adult education
three hours a week for 10 weeks. But now, he is ready to start recruiting full-time students.
Finding young students interested
in the trade required abit ofcreativity. So, he turned to the Opportunity Center of North Franklin County Inc., which helped secure a couple of grants.
A $5,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation purchased a large, reinforced trailer and some tools. A second
grant from Sugarloaf/USA was used to purchase tools. Now, he has enough materials to offer 27 tech schools from all over the state the opportunity to have a free week of instruction
on basic masonry for up to 16 students. There's no cost to the school or the teacher, Mitchell said.
He has already visited a couple
schools and plans to go to Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico and Forster
Regional Applied Technology
Center in Farmington before
the school year ends. Another
couple schools have been signed up for September.
While the schools reap the benefit of his instruction, it's also an opportunity for him to recruit interested students for a one-year mason apprentice program at the schoo lin Avon.
While Mitchell plans to be out recruiting students - he needs five full-time students for next fall - he has a teacher
at the school and runs a contracting
business with two masons.
The business supports
the school, at this point, but he hopes to make the school pay for itself. In time, he wants up to 12 students and has started
a project to make part of the building into a temporary housing space where students can stay if they don't want to find other housing.
Over the 10 months, students
would spend four days in school and a fifth day doing
something in the masonry field, he said. He wants to encourage
students to volunteer their services on that day.
"The trade of masonry is a gift," he said , "and I want the students to give back to the community through what they are learning."
Based on the number of hours in school, he said, the 10-month program at Maine School of Masonry is worth two years of apprenticeship. Normally, it takes three to four years of apprenticeship to become a
mason, he said.
Mitchell, a 1973 masonry graduate from Northern Maine Vocational Technical Institute,
had to "promote myself" to a contractor in order to get a chance to apprentice, he said. Out of the 16 graduates in his class, there are only two still in masonry.
"Approximately, 2,000 masons
leave the trade each year with only 300 new masons coming in
to replace them," he said.
"While people find money to save an old brick building, there's never money to save the trade that created the old brick building."
While explaining the work available for a mason , Mitchell
said he prefers to be a residential
mason where he can be creative and feel his work. A commercial mason, he said,concentrates on producing so much work everyday that they wouldn't be able to see their own work in the scheme o fthe project.
Mitchell, who does his work all by hand, wants to also encourage
that creativity within his students.
Stephen Mitchell has acquired a new trailer and all the tools necessary,
including bricks, to offer tech schools across the state a free week of Instruction. During the week, he plans to recruit full time
students for the Maine School of Masonry in Avon.