LEWISTON — The Lewiston Regional Technical Center will start a new program in the fall of 2017 to turn high school students into well-paid plumbers.

“There’s good news,” LRTC Director Rob Callahan told the Lewiston School Committee Monday night. “Strangely enough, it comes from the Maine Attorney General’s Office, thanks to a good group of lawyers in Augusta.”

Recently, the AG’s office settled a lawsuit with a company called Bath Fitters. The settlement agreement is that Bath Fitters will help relieve a shortage of plumbers in Maine by paying for three programs to provide training.

“We had a quick phone call from (Attorney General) Janet Mills,” Callahan said. By July, he and LRTC Assistant Director Peter Gagnon were developing a plumbing program, one LRTC has wanted but lacked the money to start.

During the next two years LRTC will receive $60,000 a year from the Attorney General’s Office for a plumbing program. Callahan said he’ll be able to take 32 students each year. Those students will come from the six sending high schools: Lewiston, Edward Little, Lisbon, Leavitt, Poland and Oak Hill.

LRTC receives 100 percent state funding for its programs, “but there’s a two-year lag,” Callahan said. “In this case we are fortunate to have that funding set up” by the AG’s office. By the third year the state funding will kick in.

“Plumbers are in high demand. They can command an outstanding wage in this economy,” Callahan said. In 2012 the median pay was $49,140 a year.

A recent student survey of the six high schools that send students to LRTC, 80 out of 360 students were interested in plumbing. “We know this is something we will be able to fill, will have value for the community and will be a great addition to our compliment of programs,” Callahan said.

Assistant LRTC Director Gagnon said he fields calls from employers looking for students with training. “We’ve been inundated by folks looking for plumbers.”

Committee member Trinh Burpee asked if the $60,000 a year would be enough. Callahan said another $30,000 a year is needed for equipment. He’s confident he can get the money through a Perkins Grant.

As with other LRTC courses, students will be able to get a plumbing certificate and earn college credit during the two-year course.

“We are thrilled about this,” Callahan said. “Farmington is another school that had their program approved by this settlement. They are off and running” offering plumbing this year.

LRTC will take a year to outfit their shop, hire an instructor “and make sure we’re working with local businesses to craft a program that meets their needs,” Callahan said.

All he needed Monday night was approval from the School Committee. The committee voted unanimously to approve the program.

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“Plumbers are in high demand. They can command an outstanding wage in this economy.” — Lewiston Regional Technical Center Director Rob Callahan

Information on the settlement:

Attorney General Announces Consumer Settlement against “Bath Fitter”

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