The Hays High School industrial technology department got an “early Christmas present,” in the words of one of its instructors.

HHS Assistant Principal John Linn and welding and woods teacher Nathan Howard presented information on a $29,431 federal grant awarded to the district in July for a computer numerical control plasma table.

The Carl D. Perkins Reserve Grant includes about $3,000 for Howard to receive training next month in Houston. As part of the grant requirements, he will provide training on the equipment for other teachers in the region and speak at two conferences on how it will help the program.

The Kansas Department of Education administers the federal funds for the state.

The equipment uses plasma — superheated electronically ionized gas — to cut through metals such as stainless steel or aluminum. Computer programming automates the process. The Hays High table, which is expected to arrive Wednesday, will be able to cut metal up to 0.75 inch thick.

Plasma cutters are the industry standard, Howard said, and the new table will allow Hays High students to be competitive on the job market or in furthering their training in welding programs at schools like Fort Hays State University or North Central Kansas Technical College.

“We're going to allow our students to be competitive within Fort Hays, to be able to go into Fort Hays knowing how to run it. They're going to be able to go into NCK knowing how to run it, or even go into the job force and be an entry-level employee,” he said.

Students in different classes will be able to work together to create products with the table.

“It also allows the metals program and the drafting program to work together. Now we can go through drafting. They draw the plans or draw the product. We can print it out on plastic to prototype it. We can go another step further. Now we can cut it out, the final pieces to be welded to make into the final product. So students are seeing the whole picture in industry,” Howard said.

“We've already got an idea of a big Indian head to go out in the commons area out by the library,” he said.

CNC machines have been in the improvement plan for technical education for several years, Linn said, adding Howard has created a great vision for the program.

Board member Paul Adams asked what other equipment Howard would like to see at Hays High.

“I'd love to get a CNC mill, which is a vertical mill where they can cut out of either aluminum, steel, any metals,” he said. “We would like to get a CNC router in the wood shop, which would be similar to that plasma table.”

Superintendent John Thissen and board members had high praise for Howard for taking the initiative to apply for the grant in July.

“It ties into some of the goal-type things we've been looking at where we really want to have the tools and the programs and everything in place with the training and everything else to provide the best for the students,” board member Luke Oborny said. “I appreciate the time and effort you guys put into this. The benefit for our district and our kids is phenomenal.”

Updated 9:15 a.m. Aug. 23, 2018, with a correction to the quote in the seventh paragraph.