The Aug. 31 start of the academic year for the Dallas County R-1 School District marked the official launch of its $12 million addition to the high school campus.
While not new to the school district, the Dallas County Technical Center now fills a 56,665-square-foot building connected to Buffalo High School. General contractor DeWitt & Associates Inc. completed construction this summer on the facility designed by Dake Wells Architecture Inc. The school district previously operated its technical center since the 1970s in Louisburg, a smaller town roughly 9 miles north of Buffalo.
In 2019, Dallas County voters approved to build the center through a 46-cent tax levy per $100 of assessed valuation for the next 25 years. School district Superintendent Tim Ryan said the voter approval was significant, as residents have rejected numerous school building projects over the years. He said the technical center project was the first the school district had sought to pass in his six-year tenure.
“We have not passed a ballot issue to build a building in over a quarter century,” Ryan said, noting voters last approved a middle school project in the 1990s. “We had probably tried more than 10 times.”
The new facility is used by students studying 10 programs: agriculture, automotive, collision repair and construction technologies, criminal justice, graphic design and print technology, health science, information technology and cybersecurity, teacher education preparation, and welding. Technical center co-director Melanie Ryan, wife of the district superintendent, said all the programs are now taught under one roof, whereas in Louisburg, classes were split among three buildings, and agriculture classes were held in a separate 83-year-old building near Buffalo High School.
Enrollment at the center is 350, of which roughly half are BHS students, she said. Five other outlying school districts – Fair Play, Halfway, Hermitage, Humansville and Skyline – send students to the technical center and comprise the rest of the enrollment. The student count for the center fluctuates based on student interest and class sizes, Ryan said. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Dallas County is one of 57 area career technical centers in the state.
“Four of the five (outlying) school districts have sent more students to us this year than in the previous year,” she said, declining to disclose numbers. “Some of that is just student interest in coming to a new facility and using better equipment.”
Ryan said some centers occasionally cap enrollment due to factors such as space, demand and staffing. It’s a situation Dallas County has not previously faced, she said.
“We might have to but the only reason we would is that we keep our classes limited to 15-18 students per class,” she said. “That’s due to the nature of the shop activities and safety. We can’t have 30 kids in a welding class because we couldn’t supervise them.”
Dallas County Technical Center has a staff of 19, including 12 teachers, Ryan said. Aside from the center providing students credits toward graduation, school officials say it serves as a training ground for a young workforce.
For example, auto tech students earn Automotive Service Excellence certification, while those who complete the welding course receive American Welding Society certification. The only program at the center that is not two years in length is the teacher education prep course, which is one year, Ryan said. Every program at the center also offers some type of postsecondary option.
“We prepare our students for either college, career or military,” she said. “We are able to offer those industry certifications so that they are prepared to enter the workforce right out of high school without accruing additional college debt to do that. Some do choose to go ahead and continue their technical training, but they’re still leaps and bounds ahead of their high school peers that don’t get to go to a career technical school and earn those certifications while in high school.”
Place of need
The main building of the three used by the school district for its technical center in Louisburg was built in the 1940s and was rapidly outliving its usefulness, said Tim Ryan.
“The phrase I used during the campaign was that the facility is beyond maintenance issues,” he said. “It’s not maintainable any longer without a significant investment.”
Officials estimated it would have required $5 million-$7 million to address all the improvements needed. Even then, it would have still been a near 80-year-old building that required ongoing daily bus transportation for students.
“When we sent students to Louisburg for the technical center, they’d lose an hour of their day transporting back and forth,” he said, noting it was valuable time that put a stress on students as they worked to earn 25 credits towards graduation.
He said with proper maintenance the new technical center should exceed the 50-year average of a school building.
“It’s definitely a long-term investment on the school district’s part,” Melanie Ryan said.
The building also will eventually benefit more than students, officials say.
“We do have plans to offer some community education and/or adult education at some point in the future,” she said, noting hobby classes such as ballroom dancing and jewelry making are among possibilities.
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