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Training centre’s ‘priceless’ legacy hailed

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Very thankful: Wilmouth Elmes has the Bermuda Technical Institute to thank for his stature in the construction industry(Photograph supplied)

A working legacy that sustained generations of young men is in danger of vanishing, a prominent graduate of the Bermuda Technical Institute has warned.

“I just wonder where I would be if there had been no Tech,” said Wilmouth Elmes, who left the institute in 1963 — nine years before it closed for good.

The 60th anniversary of the training centre’s opening was occasion for renewed calls to restore technical scholarships for young men.

Mr Elmes was among the alumni who shared their story at a forum on the institute’s capacity for nurturing opportunities.

“My education there was second to none; it was priceless,” Mr Elmes told a packed gathering of graduates and other listeners.

“To my Tech boys, ‘don’t give up, don’t let anybody take away our legacy — please share my story’.”

The institute was Bermuda’s first racially integrated school. Catering to young men aged 12 to 17, it produced more than 600 graduates in its time.

It was ultimately merged into the Bermuda College, which is developing a wide range of its own technical courses — but the BTI remains badly missed.

Mr Elmes considers himself an example of its success. Part of his youth was spent on Curving Avenue — a proud neighbourhood that today bears witness to antisocial behaviour that proponents of the “Tech” say could be headed off with a trade education.

“I would never have expected to achieve what I have,” he told The Royal Gazette.

“I was able to come out of high school and compete with American college students.

“It’s a tragedy that kids aren’t getting the opportunities that I got.”

Emerging from the Tech at 16, Mr Elmes took on advanced mechanical engineering in the United States, starting at the City University of New York.

Much of his subsequent experience related to the engineering and design of “highly complex mechanical and electrical distribution systems for high-rise buildings”.

Decades later, his jobs have included the cooling system for Malaysia’s giant Petronas Towers, and the Freedom Tower at 1 World Trade Centre.

He is now vice-president of engineering and technical services at Manhattanville Development Group, putting him in charge of the engineering and design for Columbia University’s sprawling Manhattanville expansion project — an ambitious development of an extensive urban campus in the city.

It is the biggest constructions project ever undertaken by the university.

The $1 billion project covers about 17 acres, with buildings ranging from biomedical research to academia, as well as apartments, dormitories and energy facilities. Mr Elmes called it “one of the largest projects undertaken in Manhattan, perhaps one of the largest construction projects currently under way in the United States”.

The job comes after 49 years in construction all over the world — high rises of 60 storeys and above, hospitals, universities and laboratories.

And, right now, a building where the top floor is planned as an office for President Obama after he steps down.

“I will probably get to meet him,” he said. “How cool is that?”

But Mr Elmes shares the worry that young men like he once was are now missing opportunities and falling through the cracks.

“The Tech gave me the maths, the chemistry, the physics, and it gave me the confidence. I never knew that I could not.

“I left the Tech knowing that I could.”

Reading the news from home each day, Mr Elmes encounters stories of violence and gang troubles that he finds “very disturbing”.

“If we don’t have the Tech again, it’s a lost legacy.”

The Freedom Tower in New York at 1 World Trade Centre (Photograph supplied)
Malaysia's Petronas Towers (Photograph supplied)
The Jerome L Greene Science Centre at Manhattanville (Photograph supplied)