ELKHART — Shovels hit the dirt Thursday during a groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the start of construction on Elkhart Community Schools’ new Engineering, Technology and Innovation School of Study building.

In the fall of 2021, the district will embark on a new era of education through the combining of Elkhart Memorial and Elkhart Central high schools into a unified Elkhart High School.

The new high school will have six schools of study, including one for engineering, technology and innovation.

The learning space will be located on the city’s west side between Elkhart Memorial High School and the Elkhart Area Career Center. The design for the building calls for 45,000 square feet.

A crowd of people including ECS staff, administrators, community members and others were all in attendance for the groundbreaking ceremony.

The ETI Building will be a premier education destination for engineering, technology and innovation, school officials said. During the school day, the building will serve students, but during the evening, it will house programming for adults to train the local workforce in advanced manufacturing, technology and best practices, officials said.

“Once we have those schools of study in place, it will be a critical juncture for us to prepare our students for their individual futures and pathways,” said Superintendent Steve Thalheimer. “Creating an environment like this for our students creates endless opportunities not only to help our students in K-12 education, but also bridge that learning across the adult sector as well.”

The building will feature spaces for welding, machining, logistics, data analysis, robotics and engineering, through labs, classrooms and a gathering space for 300 people.

Brandon Eakins, director of Elkhart Area Career Center, said the idea for the ETI building stemmed from conversations school staff had with organizations about ways to address the skills gap in the advanced manufacturing field in Elkhart County.

“If you look at the information that’s out there, there’s going to be over 2.6 million jobs in advanced manufacturing that will go unfilled in our nation, and it looks very similar here in Elkhart County,” Eakins said. “The growth and the number of the areas that we want to train here whether it’s the engineering careers, precision machining, welding, mechatronics technicians, the anticipated growth rate is not more than double, but sometimes triple and four times the expected growth, so we couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity.”

Funding for the $14 million ETI building has come from a variety of sources, with the most significant contribution of $2.5 million from Charlotte Mittler in her late husband’s honor.

Additional contributions include a $1 million LIFT grant from Lilly Endowment and the University of Notre Dame and a $500,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County.

Construction for the project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.

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