On the morning of Aug. 27, 2013, one thought dominated the mind of Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright.
“We’re close,” he thought as he considered his next move the morning after voters in the school district defeated a $47 million bond issue to fund the second phase of the district’s building project, which included a centrally located career tech center.
The bond issue failed to win the necessary 60-percent vote by just 147 votes. Though Wright was advised to forget about the issue for a while, he remained hopeful.
Forty months later, Wright’s hope had paid off when voters approved a new $44 million bond issue. He repeated those two words.
“We’re close,” he said, as he, along with assistant superintendent Robin Ballard and maintenance supervisor Greg Wheat, provided an informal tour of the school district’s sprawling new career tech center.
“I’d say it’s about 95 percent finished,” Wheat said, as work continued throughout the $11 million, 55,000 square-foot facility.
The main construction is over. Workers are busy adding finishing touches in anticipation of the facility’s opening in August, five years after that initial failed bond issue.
Since the second bond proposal was approved by voters, Wright said, the board has unanimously supported the project. The two big-ticket items — the New Hope High School and the career tech center — will both be open to students in the fall.
Wright beamed with pride as he led the tour of The Lowndes County Career and Technical Center.
Set far back off Lehmberg Road, the nearly completed center is an imposing structure. Up close, the most striking impression is how spacious all of the instruction areas are. Nine separate fields of study — automotive service technician, construction core, teacher academy, health sciences, industrial maintenance, welding, polymer science, culinary arts and engineering/robotics — are provided with room to grow.
“Right now, we have a little less than 100 students in our vocational programs at the three high schools,” Wright said. “Next fall, we expect to have 450 students enrolled in programs here.”
Wright said he believes the facility can easily accommodate 500 students or more.
The north side of the building features four massive rooms, complete with roll-up bay doors, and high ceilings for the industrial maintenance, welding, construction core and automotive programs. Although the equipment required for these programs won’t be installed until after the school year ends — much of that equipment is already being used at the schools — some special features are already in place. Fourteen individual welding bays have been constructed for the welding class, while the automotive service classroom is being prepared for its hydraulic lifts.
The middle section of the building features one of four new programs — the polymer science department, a 250-seat theater style auditorium, complete with a drop-down video screen.
“We’ve been working closely with Mississippi State on developing the polymer science program since it’s new for us,” Wright said. “They are helping us find an instructor in addition to helping us put together the program.”
Unlike most of the departments, the equipment for the culinary arts program is already in place. The roomy kitchen, outfitted with its shiny array of equipment, rivals that of any large restaurant. A room adjacent to the kitchen will be used for dining service, allowing students to gain experience in the entire culinary process, from food preparation to table service.
“It’s my favorite part of the building,” Wright said, laughing as he rubbed his stomach.
The south end of the building features classroom space for engineering/robotics, the teacher academy and health sciences.
The facility also includes office space, a board room and a kitchen for use of the staff, which will include nine instructors along with the man who will be in charge of the operation, Percy Lee, the district’s Tech Prep director.
Students will be divided between three 100-minute blocks, beginning at 8 a.m., with 200 students in each of two morning blocks and 150 in the afternoon block.
Wright said he also hopes to make the facility available to adult learning programs in the evening.
“We really see this as something the whole community can use,” Wright said. “Programs like the (Greater Columbus) Learning Center are already showing interest.”
Wright said businesses and industries throughout the county have also been in touch.
“We’re not just talking about the PACCARs and Steel Dynamics, but smaller industries, too,” he said. “We’ve really had interest from all over the county, from big and small.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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