Community hears plans for career-technical education center

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published September 25, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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Students in the proposed Saline County Career and Technical Education Center might gather in a collaborative space such as this to discuss classwork and/or collaborative projects.

— Saline County is one step closer to building a career and technical education center that would serve students in several school districts.

The Saline County Economic Development Corp. hosted an informational meeting Sept. 14 at the Benton Event Center for community leaders, business owners and educators to hear plans about the proposed Saline County Career and Technical Education Center. SCEDC Director Lamont Cornwell said the center would “provide 21st-century, workforce education programs” to students in seven school districts — Bauxite, Benton, Bryant, Fountain Lake, Harmony Grove, Glen Rose and Sheridan.

Cornwell said that during the past 12 months, a committee made of local business representatives and representatives of Stantec, a consulting firm based in Berkley, Michigan, had been engaged in a feasibility study that resulted in plans for this possible career and technical education center, which brings with it an estimated cost tag of $38.45 million.

Cornwell said that after almost two years of discussion, “The question we asked ourselves [was] … ‘Can the individual schools individually provide everything we need in a career technical education training, … [and] can our higher education provide everything we need in secondary CTE training?’ The answer to that was ‘no.’

“But together, we can do it. Together we can build one school that all seven schools in our area that serve Saline County students support, … that would provide everything that the businesses tell us that they need, … all the while staying flexible so that the business that decide to come to our community and say, ‘We need this,’ or ‘We need you to build this widget.’ … This school is flexible enough to do that.

“So what did we do? That’s the rest of the story.”

Cornwell introduced Theo Pappas, an architect and senior planner with Stantec, who told the audience “the rest of the story.” He discussed the findings of the feasibility study and the recommendations his company had made to the CTE Committee.

“You are doing the right thing,” Pappas told the audience. “I have designed eight CTE centers, and my firm has designed a couple dozen more … all over the country. I can’t tell you what a hot topic this is.

“You are doing the right thing.”

Pappas added that in all the places he has worked, “I’ve never seen the spirit, the passion that I’ve seen here in … Saline County. … That, to me, … is the important ingredient in this project, … the spirit of the community, … and you have that.”

Pappas and his firm recommend building a 112,000-square-foot facility on approximately 22 acres at exit 114 (the Haskell exit) from Interstate 30. They recommend the following career pathways, or areas of study, for phase 1:

• STEM (science, technology, engineering and math);

• Welding, manufacturing and metal labs;

• Automotive repair;

• Heating/ventilating/air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR);

• Information technology, computer engineering, networking, programming and gaming;

• Audiovisual technology, digital communications, graphics and multimedia communications; and

• Health sciences, medical assistant and nursing.

He said there are provisions to add four to six more areas of study in the future.

Pappas presented a design for the building.

“It would be a two-story building, actually a split-level building,” he said, “the west side being one story of high-bay automotive and manufacturing/welding bays, and the east side, two stories of tech [technology], engineering, collaborative and administrative and support spaces.”

Pappas said provisions are “for about” 300 parking spaces, drop-off/pickup area for buses and automobiles and deliveries.

“You have to take out of your mind what a traditional classroom is,” Pappas said as he showed visuals of what the center might look like. “CTE is mirroring a workplace environment. … It’s working around teams and teaching students to work as teams to augment their strengths and help each other with their weaknesses. … It’s very integrative in its approach.

“You have to think differently than [what] a normal traditional school [looks like],” he said. “Your children are not going to be working in the same environment you grew up with. … They see open spaces. … That’s what they love. It’s very open, … very interactive.”

Pappas presented a “conceptual” budget of $38.45 million. This budget includes $800,000 for the land purchase; $28.5 million for building/site construction; $2 million for a project contingency allowance; and soft costs of $1.5 million for furniture/fixtures and equipment, $2.5 million for educational technology, $1.5 million for special equipment and $1.65 million for professional fees.

“I think we have an opportunity in the county at this time, … and it will pass us by if we don’t take advantage of it, … to impact future generations of businesses, students, parents, economic areas,” Cornwell said following Pappas’ presentation. “I believe we can help our school systems. … I think we can do great things with this CTE center.

“We have another eight to 12 months of work to do before we can get to the point that we can build this thing,” Cornwell said. “Our goal is to come back here next August [with definite plans].”

During a question-and-answer session following the presentation, Cornwell said the owner of the 22 acres selected for the site of the planned Saline County CTE Center has agreed to sell the land “way below an estimated value of $4.2 million” for $800,000 and would “take a cost write-off.

“That’s a substantial donation,” Cornwell said.

Dan Moudy of Benton is one of the two owners of exit 114 properties where the 22 acres for the center are located.

“We are very excited about doing this,” Moudy said about selling the property for the project.

When questioned about financing the project, Cornwell deferred to Saline County Judge Jeff Arey.

“It would have to be a countywide sales tax,” Arey said. “The county would own the property and building and lease it back to an entity created by the school districts. “Nothing has been determined yet. It would be a short-term tax, … a sunset tax. … Once the building is paid for, it would go away.”

Cornwell said the next step in the process is to work on reducing the estimated soft costs.

“We will be looking for ways to cut those costs down, looking for grants, for donations … everywhere we can,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done … before we say the dirty words — ‘sales tax.’”