WESTFORD -- Gov. Charlie Baker praised vocational education as a crucial component of economic growth during a Wednesday visit to Nashoba Valley Technical High School, where he helped cut the ribbon on the school's updated engineering center and announced a new round of grants for local programs.
Baker toured Nashoba Tech's Engineering Center to see renovations and new pieces of equipment, such as robotics arms and 3D printers, that were added over the summer with the help of state Skills Capital Grants.
Flanked by education, town and state officials as well dozens of Nashoba Tech engineering students, Baker described the competitive nature of the grant program and complimented the school for its work.
"We want to make sure we're supporting organizations like this that translate great opportunities for kids here in the commonwealth into great futures," Baker said.
Nashoba Tech's remodeled Engineering Center has been operational since the start of the school year, but Wednesday's event -- complete with traditionally oversized scissors used to cut a ribbon that was strung between two brand-new robotic arms -- served as a formal opening.
A $495,000 grant received last year prompted several renovations and the installation of new engineering equipment, including the Sawyer robotic arms. Using a 3D printer and laser cutter acquired under that grant, seniors Matt Ringdhal of Chelmsford and Christopher Mastoriani of Townsend built small statues shaped like Massachusetts and engraved with the school's motto "Technical education reimagined.
Nashoba Tech Superintendent Denise Pigeon said the grant, as well as a $500,000 grant the school received the previous year and used toward its manufacturing program, allows classrooms to provide hands-on experiences that reflect the industry standards students can expect in the workforce.
"The best part about it is how the students feel," Pigeon said. "The students are so excited.
After the ribbon cutting, Baker walked down the hall for a second ceremony, where he and members of his administration announced the latest round of awards under the Skills Capital Grants program, awards he called "money extremely well-spent."
"What we're doing here today is of critical importance to the Massachusetts workforce, connecting these grants to the needs of our employers," said Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta during the ceremony.
About $9.5 million in grants were awarded Wednesday, including $382,830 for the Shawsheen Valley Regional Technical High School in Billerica. Shawsheen Tech will put that funding primarily toward its culinary arts program by modernizing equipment, creating "farm-to-table" curriculum and building model and hotel conference facilities.
In a Wednesday afternoon press release, Shawsheen Tech officials thanked the Baker administration for supporting the school's programs.
"The restaurant business these days is more diverse than ever," Joe Williams, Shawsheen Tech's culinary arts lead teacher, said in the release. "Dining room service and banquet services are important, but more and more businesses are adopting other models. There is a greater focus on local sourcing of ingredients. This equipment will help us transform our facilities to reflect the current state of the restaurant world."
Mount Wachusett Community College and Leominster High School's Center for Technical Education Innovation also received grants Wednesday, although the exact amount was not immediately clear.
CTEI Superintendent Jim Jolicoeur said the grant would help acquire machining and 3D printing equipment.
"It's going to give us the ability to further expand a very important area of the school that will lead to advanced manufacturing," he said.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.