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A groundbreaking earlier this year started the clock for construction of a multimillion-dollar career center in Reeds Spring that will nearly double the size of the existing facility that has served the community for nearly 50 years.
The Reeds Spring School District broke ground Jan. 27 on the roughly $36 million Table Rock Career Center, a project targeted for completion by August 2024, said Superintendent Cody Hirschi. It was made possible by voters approving a $40 million no-tax increase bond issue in April 2022.
“What we’re seeing is just a lot of excitement about how our center and the expansion of programming will impact workforce development,” said Hirschi, now in his fourth year with the school district.
Since 1974, the district has operated its career center out of the Gibson Technical Center at 386 W. State Highway 76. At roughly 44,000 square feet, officials say the current center is outdated and struggles to meet the demand from students wanting to participate in its dozen programs, such as computer technology, early childhood education and automotive collision. Around 400 students from 11 surrounding school districts utilize the 49-year-old building, said Gibson Technical Center co-director Brian Moler.
“The teachers and students we have here now are so excited about the prospect of having a new place,” Moler said. “They’re excited about the idea of what the future holds. Our teachers are excited about being able to move into a modern facility with more space and the ability to serve more kids.
“The people we have here are very passionate about getting kids out into the workforce, getting kids work-ready to build upon skills to establish as careers and things they’ll use for the rest of their lives.”
DeWitt & Associates Inc. is general contractor for the new 80,000-square-foot career center, designed by Dake Wells Architecture Inc. The two companies also served as contractor and designer for the $12 million Dallas County Technical Center, which opened in 2021, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Moler, who will become Gibson Technical Center’s sole director for the 2023-24 school year following the retirement of co-director Nick Thieman, said the facility has experienced a 40% enrollment increase in the last 10 years. He said five of its programs – construction technology, welding, automotive technology, emergency medical technician and culinary arts – all have waitlists.
“There’s kids from our sending schools wanting to take classes here, get certified in our programs, that we’re having to turn away just because we’re at full capacity,” Moler said.
Aside from Reeds Spring, the Gibson center serves school districts in Christian, Stone and Taney counties. They are Blue Eye, Bradleyville, Branson, Chadwick, Crane, Forsyth, Galena, Hollister, Hurley and Spokane high schools.
When officials began the design phase and budgeting, Hirschi said the project’s cost was estimated at $22 million-$25 million. However, he said inflation and the rising costs of construction boosted the budget to roughly $36 million. While mostly funded by the tax issue, which 75% of voters approved last year, state funding will make up the rest, he said. That encompasses around $1 million in state grants, including $400,000 from the Missouri’s Area Career Center Opportunity grant program the school district received in November.
Moler said the district employs 25, including 12 instructors, at the center, which offers programs for high school juniors and seniors. Students who complete programs receive the state career and technical education certificate, he said. However, they also can earn additional program-specific certifications, such as those for automotive service excellence and certified nursing assistant.
“Each program has some type of industry-recognized credential that students can earn that are either necessary or will help them in that career field,” he said, adding most programs also have credit articulation through Ozarks Technical Community College. “These are credits the students can transfer toward an OTC certification if they go on to postsecondary education.”
The Table Rock Career Center is being built adjacent to Reeds Spring High School, 20277 State Highway 413. It plans to offer 13 programs for students, as well as evening classes for adults, similar to the current tech center. Moler said adults currently can take welding, fitness, computer and cake decorating classes. School officials say they want to see that lineup expand once the new facility opens.
“Hopefully, this will garner some new interest in our adult programming and education and get more people involved and take advantage of this new great facility we’re going to have,” Moler said, noting the career center expects to add engineering and criminal justice for high school students.
The Gibson Tech Center serves roughly 200 students in each morning and afternoon session but has no common gathering space. Instead, whenever an awards ceremony or other celebratory program is held, students and staff must walk next door to a church to use its auditorium, Moler said.
“It’ll have a nice big commons area and also a 70-seat lecture hall for whenever we have guest speakers coming in,” he said of the new career center.
School officials expect the center will initially expand to serve up to 500 students but has the capacity to teach as many as 600 students. Hirschi said there also would be room to add to the building.
The future for the Gibson Tech Center building remains uncertain, Hirschi said.
“We have some parties interested in purchasing the building,” he said, declining to identify them. “We’re still trying to decide if we’re going to keep the building to repurpose it or sell it.”
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How about including marine emphasized technology programs like engine and boat maintenance and repair?