Efforts are underway to jump start a vocational school for disabled veterans in Middletown by early next year.

Efforts are underway to jump start a vocational school for disabled veterans in Middletown by early next year.

According to Veterans Watchmaker Initiative Chairman Sam Cannan, two trailers will be placed on a four-acre parcel off U.S. Route 301 in Middletown sometime this month to temporarily serve as classroom space for at least 10 veterans who will receive training in watchmaking.

It was last year in November that Cannan went before the Middletown Mayor and Council to present his vision for the Technical Center at Money's Farm – a 13,000 square foot vocational school for disabled veterans.

But the actual project is far from beginning construction. Cannan said he is working hard to raise the $4.2 million needed to make the state-of¬-the-art campus a reality, but that in the meantime some veterans could start learning watchmaking skills that one day could allow them to take high-paying jobs in the watch industry.

“We’re still also working on the paperwork for the construction of the whole facility, but for now we’re looking at the possibility of jump starting the project by getting portable buildings on site and an abbreviated program running,” Cannan said.

Cannan had been working on securing the trailers that could be used as classrooms since May, but it was in October when he was able to find them and buy them from a school in Folcroft, Pennsylvania.

The company Reybold Homes stepped up to disassemble and transport the buildings, Cannan said.

“They agreed to move the buildings, bring them to the site, set them up, and get them all ready to go,” Cannan explained. “That alone would have cost about $10,000 to $20,000.”

The wood skirting and decks attached to the portable buildings needed to be disassembled to facilitate transport. Cannan said that he contacted the Middletown chapter of the motorcycle group Hogs & Heroes along with its Pennsylvania chapter assisted with the task to help keep the cost down.

“They agreed to remove the decks and the skirting of the buildings for free. They were wonderful,” Cannan said. “They put in at least 100 man hours to do what needed to be done.”

But the work isn’t over. Cannan said that when the temporary portable classrooms buildings are installed he’ll need volunteer contractors who can set up the water, plumbing, and electrical lines, and can help with the drawings.

“If we can get the buildings set up, get all the permits [for sewer], and all the things underway then we can begin the program in January, or by early February. We have a lot of veterans waiting,” Cannan explained.

A large international watch company already donated $100,000 worth of equipment for the students to use in the classroom, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. has agreed to donate library shelving, lab cabinets, and desks for the temporary classrooms and for the final campus once it’s completed, Cannan said.

Watchmaking is a craft that not many people are familiar with, but it is an ideal occupation for veterans who face mobility challenges, but can learn to work with their hands, Cannan said.

“We have many big watch companies that want to help and want to do something good for the veterans and who want to see progress with the project,” Cannan said.

Delaware Economic Development Office Secretary Bernice Whaley is also familiar with the project.

“She was at the site a few weeks ago looking at what we’ve been doing so the governor’s cabinet is also involved with this some,” Cannan added.

Cannan is counting on $60,000 currently in the bank to kick off the abbreviated curriculum for classes, but he said he is busy writing grant applications and trying to get the attention of donors to help bring in the $4.2 million to cover the construction of the permanent campus. Cannan said that right now he is looking to start construction of the actual building in a year or 18 months.

“It catches up with me sometimes. You get tired. You get people saying they’re going to help and ‘you have a good thing here,’ but what keeps me motivated are all the GIs, all the veterans,” Cannan said. “They want to have a chance to return and have some sort of normal life and this is a real opportunity to restore their dignity because it gives me them tool they need to go back to work on their terms…. They are so special and that’s why this needs to happen.”

Cannan said that he hopes that the mobile buildings will be delivered to the site in the next week.

HOW TO HELP

To make a financial donation to the project, make your check payable to Veterans Watchmaker Initiative and mail to:

Veterans Watchmaker Initiative Inc.

P.O. Box 329

Little Creek DE 19961

To be become a volunteer for the project, contact Sam Cannan at 1-888-VET-8380.