LAONA - For the last 55 years, Blackwell Job Corps in Forest County helped train disadvantaged students for in-demand jobs. Later this year, Blackwell will shut down.
The USDA -- which runs the Forest Service Civilian Conservation Centers -- announced Friday it will transfer CCC operations to the Department of Labor.
The move will mean closing down Blackwell and eight other CCCs across the United States by the end of the year. Blackwell is the only CCC in Wisconsin.
"This proposed decision would allow DOL to serve more students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers," DOL spokesperson Megan Sweeney wrote in response to Newswatch 12's inquiry.
"Decisions to propose deactivation of specific centers were made carefully following reviews of overall data regarding the CCCs' performance and outcome measurements, internal controls, capacity and proximity, costs, and ongoing needs of each CCC against the overall Job Corps program to determine the best path forward."
Sixteen other centers will stay open under a new contract or partnership.
"As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative that the Forest Service focus on and prioritize our core natural resource mission.... and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue wrote to Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
Blackwell opened in 1964 and served about 150 students at a time, as of its 50th anniversary celebration in 2014. Students learned skills in industries like carpentry, welding, and forest firefighting.
The decision will likely lead to 1,100 layoffs, as reported Friday in the Washington Post.
"I am proud of the civilian conservation corps legacy we have left for generations of youth to build their individual capacity and independence," a letter from US Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said. "The most important thing we can do right now is reach out to our Job Corps CCC colleagues to support them as they move into a very difficult transition."
Christiansen explained the move to the DOL helps with "mission alignment" by providing children with skills that can lead to new jobs, makes the Job Corp program "more efficient and flexible to local nees" and provides "better services for students."
The letter also says the transition will "benefit the students in the long run."
Sweeney told Newswatch 12 the public will be able to comment on the DOL's Federal Register Notice beginning May 30. You can read the unpublished notice here.