Van Horn included in UTEP aerospace manufacturing push in west Texas

By Shanna Cummings

Van Horn has been included in a program through University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) Center for Space Exploration and Research (cSETER) to make west Texas from Alpine to El Paso an aerospace industry hub in the US. If UTEP receives the grant funding next month for this second phase of the project, Van Horn will become home to an aerospace manufacturing training facility.

“This training facility will be targeting our community and surrounding areas for people interested in training for new job opportunities in the aerospace industry,” Superintendent Ken Baugh explained via email.

UTEP’s program has already placed over 100 graduates in aerospace jobs and led to construction of five manufacturing facilities. 

“The county will be looking at its land in its industrial park area by the airport, and the City’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) will consider their role in this new grant, and CCAISD will build the building,” Baugh added. The building would cost around $1.5 million to construct, but Baugh told school board members during the Jan 25 regular meeting that he was also interested in including a robotics and drone training program in the facility, which would increase construction costs.

The grant stipulates community-wide involvement in the project, Baugh told board members, and the school is primed to take on that responsibility by including it in the upcoming bond.

Once finished, the training facility would welcome adults and high school students from around the area. Baugh told board members that he would like a manufacturing plant in Van Horn as well, considering proximity to both I-10 and Blue Origin.

“Not just train them, but why not locate something here,” he said. “We’re right here on the highway.”

Van Horn was included in the project thanks to former school board member Eddie Seyffert and former CCAISD employee Karolyne Carloss who encouraged participation in 2019.

FIRST reports

Superintendent Ken Baugh explained a pair of FIRST reports that awarded CCAISD failing scores for school years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Usually the district receives Superior marks, Baugh said, but one criteria the district missed due to unforeseen circumstances – timely annual audit – caused the district to fail both years though nearly all other criteria were met or exceeded.

Another criteria docked the district for exceeding a 10 percent revenue variance on the annual budget for over two years. Usually this happens when a district is having financial problems and receives less revenue than the budgeted amount, Baugh explained. However, CCAISD has increased its Maintenance and Operation (M&O) fund balance each year more than 10 percent due to revenue from oil and gas. 

“Basically, in less than five years, we doubled the fund balance on M&O,” Baugh said. This allows the district to have funds on hand for emergencies, while reducing the tax 25 percent.

“Unlike the state, unlike everybody else, we’re prepared,” Baugh added.

The district has already formulated a plan for addressing the two criteria going forward. Submitting the audit on time is easily accomplished, Baugh said, but the 10 percent variance issue is more complicated.

Updates and reports

A tower that provides the band director an elevated view of the marching band during practice is currently under construction ahead of marching season next school year.

Seating areas in the track and field areas now have shade covers to provide protection and comfort from the sun for spectators.

The Fully Automated Timing (FAT) system for track is expected to be installed mid-February ahead of track and field season. Van Horn is hosting several meets this year, including District and Area competitions.

A temporary separate Pre-K appropriate playground is being created next to the current elementary playground. This year, two Pre-K students were seriously injured playing on the elementary equipment. Baugh said he is looking into playground construction firms to build a permanent age-appropriate playground for the lower elementary grade students.

Construction plans for a bus barn to protect the district’s transportation fleet are in process.

A maintenance truck and two buses are en route. Also, the district purchased a suburban rather than the intended two vans, which aren’t being built at this time.

Principal Charles Gonzales reported school enrollment of 356, including 28 pre-k students.

Board members also discussed uniform and equipment purchase rotation.

Principal Gonzales tracked down three potential engineering firms willing to perform the traffic study of the school zone and offer solutions to the speeding issue. The board recently received permission from City Council to install speed cushions on the streets around the campus to slow down speeding drivers while students are present.