Vocational Village students gift model of the Mighty Mac to the Mackinac Bridge Authority

ST. IGNACE, Mich. ­- The Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) has a new model of the bridge on display in its St. Ignace office, a gift from the Vocational Village students at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.

A rotating group of students at the first-of-its-kind skilled trades training program operated by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) spent more than a year through the COVID pandemic working on the model of the bridge. Though not strictly to scale, the 15-inch by 138-inch model is incredibly detailed.

“The bridge is mainly made of wood, which most pieces were cut out by hand or were cut using our CNC (computer numerical control) machine,” said Shane Peterman, a building trades instructor at Vocational Village who teaches the carpentry class. “The cables consist of wood and string that we painted so they looked like the real cables. The light poles were done with Q-tips and painted. The base was done using drywall compound to make it look like waves, then painted blue to look like the water under the bridge. We added some stones from the walkways around the facility to make it look like the rocks at the bridge.”

MBA Bridge Director Kim Nowack said she was very impressed with the model the students created. MBA maintenance employees built supports to display the model.

“It’s beautiful, and we’ll be proud to display it in our board room right above a bank of windows looking out at the bridge,” she said. “It’s evident from the quality of the model that the Vocational Village program is providing excellent instruction, and the students are gaining valuable skills they’ll be able to put to use in the future.”

Students enter the class at different times, as they are in various stages of the training program. Peterman said he suggested the project for advanced students.

“I really like to travel to the Island (Mackinac), so I thought we could do a model of the bridge and the Grand Hotel as a longer project to fill in when we don’t have other projects to complete,” he said. “The bridge was started just before COVID hit; it was then worked on when possible for the next one-to-one-and-a-half years. We used it as a display piece for when people visited our shop looking at our program.”

MDOC operates Vocational Village programs at three facilities: the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility, the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, and the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti. Prisoners who participate in the program are housed together in one unit and have full days of training and classroom instructions, leading to nationally recognized certifications in their trade.

Vocational Village offers training in masonry and concrete, commercial driver licensing (CDL) and forklift operation, automotive technology, carpentry, electrical and plumbing trades, computer coding, CNC machine tool and robotics, line clearing and tree trimming, 3-D printing, cosmetology, food technology, and welding.

Fast facts:

– Students from the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Vocational Village program built a model of the Mackinac Bridge during their building trades classes and have donated the model to the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA).  

– The MBA is now displaying the model in the board room at the Authority’s administration building in St. Ignace.

– Vocational Village skilled trades training programs are in place at three correctional facilities in the state, located in Ionia, Jackson and Ypsilanti.  

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