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Business helps mold PTEC plastics course

Months ago, Ben Bush had few students and very little equipment in his industrial plastics classroom at the Pinellas Technical Education Center in St. Petersburg.

Now he has 20 students preparing for well-paying jobs in a lively industry, and about 20 pieces of equipment, thanks to a mutually beneficial loan agreement with a plastics company that has an office in St. Petersburg.

"Things are beginning to pop here. Things are beginning to happen," Bush said. "Now we've got a waiting list." Another class begins Monday.

Bush, 79, a retired plastics engineer, started the course about a year ago. But response was slow, so Bush worked hard to get out the word, both to prospective students and to people in the industry.

It happened that the Right Equipment Co., a large firm with a local office, needed a place to store and show machines it has for sale. Bush's 10,000-square-foot PTEC classroom fit the bill. It made a better showroom than a dingy warehouse, and Bush's students could keep the equipment in working order while learning the craft.

Bush's students are a diverse group that includes men and women of all ages. Many are learning new trades. Gary Trangas, for example, was a plumber and a gas-fitter. Mary Worrell was a union pipefitter. Constantinos Chelikas is a retired real estate salesman. Sherri Stephens has been a preschool teacher. And Budd Ballard was a technical adviser for a movie theater equipment manufacturer.

"This class started with nothing," Bush said. "When we needed something we did our own thing." That included fixing a forklift, scrounging parts, painting, and picking up donated equipment.

"We've seen what we have to do and we're not frightened," Chelikas said.

Bush is sill working to forge a permanent partnership involving the course, the school system and the plastics industry.

"There are still some things we need," he said.