City joins schools to train auto mechanics

FORT WORTH - A recent senior automotive technology class at Trimble Tech High School included a tutorial on sensors, and instructor Robert Schultz was demonstrating them, using his own 2012 Ford Mustang.

Against a far wall, several vehicles were parked, the newest a 2004 Honda Odyssey minivan. Automakers donated most of the vehicles but haven't given in several years.

"Because of the downturn in the economy, the automakers are not giving us vehicles anymore, so we're pretty much limited to what we have here or what the students and staff members bring in," Schultz said. "Our students learn on high tech; the cars they have to work on are becoming obsolete," said Cathleen Richardson, executive director of math and career technology education for the school district.

Enter a new partner for the Fort Worth schools. The Fort Worth City Council approved a partnership last week under which it will occasionally loan vehicles to Fort Worth's five high school auto tech programs.

The schools will ask for vehicles that need specific maintenance - "we're working on brakes this week, we'll ask for a vehicle with brake problems," said Vanessa Barrera, school district career and technical education coordinator. City mechanics will diagnose the vehicle, the city will provide parts and tools, students will make the repairs, and the city mechanics will review their work.

Eventually, the city and schools will likely extend the partnership to include collision repairs, Barrera said. The Fort Worth school board is scheduled to approve the maintenance program Jan. 15.

"It saves the city money, and the students get the opportunity to practice their skills on the vehicle," said Wayne Corum, the city equipment services director.

Additionally, the high schools - Trimble Tech, Poly, Dunbar, O.D. Wyatt, and Northside - train students toward taking a test for Automotive Service Excellence certification as an automotive technician, and the program is a way to further the skills of interns it brings on or technicians it hires full time, Corum said.

The Trimble Tech program typically turns out one or two mechanics per year who pass the ASE certification test in engine performance, electrical, brakes, steering and suspension, Schultz said.

Rafael Colchado, 17, a Trimble Tech senior in the program, said he's been working on cars since age 7.

"My dad would buy and sell cars, and I'd help him fix them," he said. "I'd help with the tools. He'd tell me which tools he needed, and I'd get them. He [eventually] let me replace parts and let me fix 'em."

Colchado said he's been accepted into a Lincoln Tech auto program.

The city, which has been turning toward more partnerships to save money and lever public resources, hasn't determined how much money it may save under the program, Corum said.

"We haven't crunched any numbers," he said. "We charge $63 per hour to our city departments. That will add up over the year."

Roger Alfaro, instructor in Trimble Tech's collision program, is eager for a partnership with the city.

It'll help train his students to do their work in a set time frame, he said. Last week, the students repainted a 2005 Toyota Tacoma pickup brought in by a patron who paid for materials and gave the school a donation.

Three other vehicles in the shop - a 1965 Ford Mustang, a 1963 Chevy Belair and a 1978 Toyota Celica - belong to Alfaro, who regularly drives a 2010 Chevy Malibu. "I get stuck with cars," he said.

Scott Nishimura,

(817) 390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura