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It’s a special sort of wizardry that transforms scruffy old handball courts into a sparkling new community kitchen.

Highlands College construction technology students are bent on finishing a luminous new dream kitchen built especially for the disabled at the Silver Bow Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc., headquarters, 305 W. Mercury St.

By next week organizations that serve the disabled can start booking times to use the American Disabilities Act-compliant kitchen.

The new space will allow instructors to teach nutrition and cooking classes as part of an overall wellness objective, said Cassie Weightman, specialist with the Montana Independent Living Project.

“We want it to be one of those places where you’re happy to be with your friends,” said Weightman, whose group partners with the council. “There’s no other place like it in Butte.”

With money raised annually in the Butte-oberfest, the two-year Nutrition Education Station is finally coming to fruition.

Jim Strande’s and Bill Ryan’s construction technology students started the project last year, when they converted an ages-old handball court — once the physical education gymnasium for the old Boys Central High School — into its current

incarnation.

The Highlands construction workers raised the handball floor, readying it for this year’s class to install new flooring and bright turquoise paint.

“Students have worked really hard on this,” said Strande. “They’ve come a long way in a short time. We’ve literally built it from the ground up.”

On Thursday, five students added crisp, bright laminate countertop and ovens to a white base they made for the Nutrition Education Station.

By next week, Strande said, they plan to add triple sinks, pantries with locking cabinets and French doors to complete the project. Then groups can start cooking their way to wellness while learning new skill sets.

“It’s to get people with disabilities comfortable with nutrition and exercise,” said Weightman. “They will be able to learn new skills that will help them become more independent.”

The space, like the adjacent Gym Dandy fitness rooms paid for in years past with Butte-oberfest money and grants from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, will eventually be available for nonprofits or any other interested groups to rent, said Hoar.

“We’re pretty open if you bring in your own supplies,” added Weightman. “For example, anyone can hold cooking classes in exchange for donating to the cause.”

The kitchen is a win-win for the Highlands Trades and Technical Department students, too.

“I think it’s good that Highlands gets to do stuff that benefits people with disabilities,” said student foreman Dustin Kunz. “Plus it’s not on campus. It’s a real-world job for us.”

The off-campus job gives construction students good community exposure for potential work, said student Elizabeth Lyons.

Lyons eyeballs the project from the perspective of the disabled, too.

“We take so much for granted that some people need help learning,” Lyons added. “It’s tough on their caregivers, so this is a neat project.”

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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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