By, ViAnn Prestwich

Several historic incidents occurred in 1968: The Civil Rights Act, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the introduction of the 747 Jumbo Jet, the first manned spacecraft, the North Vietnam Tet Offensive, and the construction of Uintah Basin Area Vocational Center.

The birth of UBAVC during this historically significant year may seem like a side note but on-the-contrary, this institute, made possible by the 1968 Amendment to the United States Vocational Education Act, was a significant milestone for education and the economic advancement of the tri-county Uintah Basin and the United States.

UBAVC’s contributions to the economy and livelihood of the country were predicted during the October 24, 1968 dedication by then Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. T. H. Bell, who would eventually become a U.S. Education Secretary.

“An important function of better education is to get people off welfare rolls and onto payrolls,” Bell said in his dedicatory speech. “Vocational and technical education should build confidence and character as well as skill and performance capability.”

The first UBAVC was honeycomb-shaped facility that still stands today adjacent to the Union High baseball field. It has remained in continual use over the decades, first by the VC and later by Union High School, housing different classes and school departments.

The small size of the first VC didn’t reduce the building’s importance or the springboard it produced for future programs. The 10, six-sided classrooms located directly across Lagoon Street from the current UBTech, housed a full-slate of vocational education classes in the daytime for students at Union High, as well as those from Altamont and Duchesne high schools.

Evening classes lured adults who wanted an opportunity to study building trades, welding, and auto mechanics.

Business classes gave students skills in typing, shorthand, and business machines. Introductory drafting courses were available as was an electronics curriculum dealing with direct current electricity and alternating current electricity.

Home economics programs included tailoring, principles of nutrition, and family finance.

George A. Thatcher, the first director of the Center, was also the part-time electronics instructor. Thatcher spent part of his youth in the Uintah Basin. When he was tapped from his teaching post as an electronics instructor in Salt Lake City to lead the VC, he and his wife came to Roosevelt with 9 of their 12 children still living at home.

Thatcher led the fledgling vocational center during its first three and a-half years. Today one of Thatcher’s sons’, Daniel, is a member of the Utah Senate, representing District 12, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Tooele counties.

In 1968 the vocational center was financed through a Federal Vocational Grant, which was matched by Duchesne County School District, the original building cost close to $200,000. Nearly 40 years later, when ground was broken for the new Vernal building in February 2007, the cost was close to $26 million.

To get a perspective on the enormous jump in building cost, consider that when the original building was constructed a Dodge Charger cost around $3,000. A bottle of Gerber’s strained baby food was a dime, ten pounds of Idaho Russets sold for 38 cents, and the original UBAVC building only needed to accommodate several dozen students.

Compare these costs to the 2007 building. In 2007 a Dodge Charger was around $30,000, Gerber baby food cost well over a dollar, and the new Vernal building was designed to hold hundreds of students.

Throughout 2018 UBTech, formerly UBATC, and before that known as the VC or vocational center, will be commemorating 50-years of providing vocational and technical education.

Watch this spot in the Uintah Basin Standard for more information about this 50-year-old ground-breaking school. If you have a story to tell or know of someone whose life was affected by the school, please, email Pictures of events at the school, either 50 years ago or more recent, would also be of great interest to us.