Years ago, when Emily McDougal’s grandfather introduced her to welding, something about her felt instantly bonded to the act of bonding metals together with heat.
There’s a practicality to it, but also an art, she explained.
“Welding is a chance to create,” she said.
That chance came to her in a professional capacity earlier this month, when the 2020 Fair Play High School graduate was given the chance to work alongside James Caldwell of Fair Play Metals to complete construction work on the district's gymnasium as part of its $1.6 million no-tax-levy-increase bond issue passed by voters in 2018.
“This summer, we are expanding the gym lobby to complete the renovations to the gym,” R-2 superintendent Renee Sagaser said.
Caldwell described the project as a 101-by-56-foot addition, featuring a lobby and classroom.
Sagaser said, while the district had originally estimated the project’s cost as $235,000, that figure “was when we were going to add a metal building beside the gym.”
The full cost of the project is around $450,000, she said.
“We redesigned that before the actual vote,” Sagaser said. “We decided adding onto the existing lobby would provide us with what we needed. We are doubling the size of the lobby and adding a weight room, storage room and an open area that can be used for meetings and classroom space for the PE teacher. We are updating and expanding the restroom.”
Caldwell said the finished product should look completely uniform with the gym, which was built decades ago.
“When this project came up, we worked with the architect to make it look like it’s all one thing and not hodgepodge,” he said.
It’s the kind of work McDougal said she could see herself doing as a career.
Last year, McDougal, who simultaneously attended Dallas County Technical Center, was named the technical school’s 2019-20 student of the year in April.
According to DCTC, the criteria for student nominations include consistency, self-direction, flexibility, enthusiasm, conviction, dedication, ambition, confidence, passion and empathy.
“Emily has demonstrated all of these qualities both of the years she has attended the welding program at DCTC,” director Melanie Ryan said in a statement.
McDougal’s nomination letter, included in the statement, credited her as a “very self-directed person that when given the opportunity will excel in anything she does in her life.”
“She has placed first in SkillsUSA District contest and fifteenth in the state contest in welding skills competitions,” the letter reads. “She recently received the breaking traditions award for being an outstanding female welder in a non-traditional career path. Emily has just always been a student you could count on to get the job done and also do it correctly.”
Caldwell, said he, too, has noticed McDougal’s upward trajectory. The district awarded her a scholarship funded by Caldwell’s Fair Play Metals earlier this year.
“I’ve watched Emily the last two to three years through the school’s ag program,” he said. “I follow it just to keep up with it, and she’s just really excelled in her field.”
So far, McDougal said the largest project she’s been a part of is building a hay trailer. This is much larger, she said.
“I’ve never done a building like this before,” she said. “It’s been fun. It’s awesome. When they texted me about it, I was excited to get to do it, to get an opportunity to work on the school. It was an honor.”
Sagaser said the district has utilized its bond funds for a number of projects, including technology.
The district purchased laptops for grades 9-12, Chromebooks for grades 5 and 6, expanded its wifi connections, and upgraded and added a new computer server for the district, she said.
Other work is visible from outside the school.
“As of now, we are addressing roofing needs,” she said.
The district has also added foyers to the high school at the two main locations, updated and integrated the door locking system, added new bleachers and expanded seating capacity and added air conditioning and new heating units in its large gym.
“We plan on redesigning and expanding the playground area either this school year or next summer, depending on the weather,” she said.