Essexville moves a million steps closer to building a regional STEM center

A regional STEM center is $1 million closer to reality, thanks to a state grant.

Last week Essexville-Hampton Public Schools announced it received a $1 million grant from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. In all, the state awarded $64 million to 100 Michigan municipalities and organizations. Read more about the grant here.

Emma Blakley, who graduated from Garber High School in 2023, read the announcement of the grant to build a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Center. Members of the Garber High School robotics team flanked Blakley as she read the announcement. Blakley also was wearing a robotics team sweatshirt.

In the audience for the announcement were students from the district, Bay County Executive Jim Barcia, Bay Area Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Magen Samyn, and representatives for State Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet, State Rep. Timmy Beson, and US Sen. Dan Kildee.

Justin RalstonSuperintendent Justin Ralston has been working toward the STEM center from almost of the beginning of his time with the district. Ralston, who started working as the district superintendent on Aug. 29, 2022, talked about the STEM center in a Jan. 12, 2023 Route Bay City article.

The exact location and timeline aren’t yet determined, but Ralston has pledged that the building will be on Garber-Cramer property and it won’t take away any practice fields for athletics. The dedicated, state-of-the-art STEM facility will be open to other schools in the region, Ralston added.

At last week’s announcement, Ralston stressed that getting this grant took the work of many people. Volunteers dedicated hundreds of hours to completing the grant application over the summer. Ralston said the grant application included more than 20 letters of support from elected officials, businesses, and nonprofit leaders.

Some of the volunteers and supporters were in the audience for the announcement.

Ethan Shannon, the STEM/robotics teacher at Garber, praised the work of everyone who made the grant possible.

“When I think of Essexville-Hampton Public Schools, I think of small schools with big possibilities,” Shannon said. “The idea of a regional stem center at EHPS is no longer a goal, it is a certainty.”

Garber High School Principal Brian Campbell also expressed excitement at the opportunities the STEM center creates.

“Our STEM center will be a space where young people have their minds ignited by curiosity,” he told the crowd.

Garber High School (Photo courtesy of Essexville-Hampton Public Schools)“It will be a dynamic hub that fosters 21st Century skills. We’re building the future every day. This STEM Center expands opportunities for students from throughout our district to try real-world applications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We know that tacking the problems of the future will require collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. We’re taking up that challenge by creating learning experiences that foster those skills at all levels and for all of our students.”

School Board President Charles Rochow, a retired math instructor, echoed Campbell’s statements.

“Our board has made a firm commitment to embracing the idea of a regional STEM center that would further enhance our ability to meet the every-changing needs we face in the 21st Century,” Rochow said.

Magen SamynSamyn talked about the positive impact the STEM center will have on the business community.

“When we talk about talent, we talk about attraction, but more important, we talk about retention,” Samyn said.

Samyn also reminded the audience that fundraising is not finished. Ralston said final plans aren’t finished, so he doesn’t have an accurate estimate of what the facility will cost. However, he did say the grant will be less than half the money needed.

“It’s going to a lot more of us and more dollars to be able to move this project toward the finishing line,” Samyn said.  “As we work together as a community, as a region, it’s going to take each and every one of us, all of our community members, all of our business leaders, to be able to step up and make sure we take this STEM Center across the finish line.”

Essexville City Manager Craig Goulet pointed out the STEM center would impact the entire community.

Cramer Junior High School (Photo courtesy of Essexville-Hampton Public Schools)“What would a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math center mean to Essexville and surrounding areas? You don’t have to look very far to see similar facilities and the impact they have on those communities as well as their schools.”

Goulet said Garber graduates would be prepared for jobs in the future. Employers would see the benefit of having a state-of-the-art facility in Essexville.

Hampton Township Supervisor Teresa Close echoed Goulet’s comments.

“I’m just thrilled to death to be able to give these tools to these students that are interested,” Close said. “This STEM program will have a positive impact on so many student’s lives. And this program has the potential to attract economic growth, industry and business investment, in our region because of the talented, skilled workers that this STEM program will provide.”

James A. BarciaBarcia talked about the high-tech companies already coming to the area such as SK Siltron CSS and Vantage Plastics. He hopes the STEM center continues that trend.

“Hopefully we’re going to see investments that will create jobs that will retain our young people here by paying the kinds of salaries that will allow them to purchase a home, maybe get married, and have children,” Barcia said.

Read more about the project in this March 9, 2023 Route Bay City article.

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at