The expansion and consolidation of the Delaware Area Career Center at its southern campus won't officially be complete until next fall.

But that hasn't stopped hundreds of students and faculty from sharpening their computer, robotics and other tech skills amid the hammering, drilling and heavy machinery.

This modern showpiece of vocational education at 4565 Columbus Pike will merge about 800 students into one building. But doing so was stalled by an elections error three years ago that almost derailed the $45 million project. Early last year, career center officials were shocked to learn that a November 2015 levy was in jeopardy because Delaware County elections officials had inadvertently excluded small portions of the school district in neighboring counties from voting.

Work already had begun on the project. But the $4.4 million annually that officials thought they'd begin collecting over 10 years for construction was in limbo. The project was mothballed until a solution was devised: Return the issue to the ballot in the excluded counties. It eventually passed overwhelmingly and work resumed earlier this year.

The building's towering ceilings have replaced the cramped, compartmentalized interior. The extra space is especially needed for engineering and manufacturing instruction, following a $1 million Ohio Department of Education grant two years ago from Tri-Rivers Career Center and Ramtec in Marion for equipment, said Alicia Mowry, schools spokeswoman.

"When we were given that grant, we had all this new equipment, but we didn't have any place to put it," she said.

The north campus has been sold to Delaware County for probable use as an operations center for various departments and administrative headquarters for the Delaware County sheriff's office.

The rebirth of manufacturing and tech industry jobs has become a big part of state and national politics.

Engineering instructor Nick Steffen knows jobs are waiting. He gets calls weekly from companies that need workers.

"Our kids are not slouches," Steffen said. "There's too many jobs and not enough students who are trained. It's bad for the companies. But every student is going to have somewhere to go if they want."

Steffen's students program milling machines, robotics and 3-D printers to produce everything from replica conveyor belts to toy statues.

Jacob Rinehart, 17, of Delaware likes the hands-on work rather than sitting behind a desk. An avid bowler, he'd like to work for a company such as QubicaAMF, one of the world's largest manufacturers of bowling products.

Scott Huffman, 18, of Ashley plans to go to college to study engineering and psychology. He said it's important for engineers to understand how manufacturing innovations affect human behavior.

"In psychology, you understand people ... and with engineering you can put it into actuality instead of just words and thoughts."

Mowry said she and others teared up when they first saw students fill halls that not long ago were wrapped in plastic.

"To walk in here and see it being used, to see the kids excited, to see them really proud of the school they come to -- it's amazing," she said.

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso