St. Francis students get to business with MnDOT snow plow parts production

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A new partnership between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and a group of high school students is helping to keep snow plows and other equipment running on state roads.

It’s part of a ripple effect after MINNCOR Industries closed its location at the Stillwater prison following the death of a corrections officer last year. With the prison’s shop closed, a St. Francis High School teacher saw the opportunity to partner his students with MnDOT.

For one hour a day, five days a week, students at St. Francis High are hard at work filling orders for MnDOT.

From bolts and pins to poles and pulleys, the class is a business called Saints Manufacturing, where students are learning real life skills. 

“MnDOT will send us a print and we give it to the students that do our bidding for us,” said Erik Trost, the teacher involved with Saints Manufacturing. “It goes all the way to them having to make calls to vendors to have to get quotes for steel.”

Brian McDonald of MnDOT says almost everything on the brand new plows is custom - other than the cab. He was impressed to see the St. Francis shop includes many pieces of equipment found in any modern machinery and fabrication shop. For Minnesota taxpayers, the production comes at a much cheaper price. 

“I would say they are going to be comparable to what we had with MINNCOR price-wise,” McDonald said. “It’s a little too early to tell. I just know they are going to be cheaper than going the other route.”

Profits go right back into the program, while the pride students are feeling is immeasurable. 

“It seems like every day we are stepping down into the pool more of just being in this industry, instead of being away from it and doing it as a kind of mock situation,” said Connor Rekdahl, a St. Francis High School senior. “It’s almost like we are fully in it now.”

In the coming year, the St. Francis shop has received the funding to double in size. The teacher and students hope to continue producing even more MnDOT parts.