The future of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center will not include a new home at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
“Sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side,” said Juandiego Wade, chairman of both the CATEC board and the Charlottesville School Board. “But we will make the changes that we need to make students as competitive as possible.”
PVCC President Frank Friedman in May 2014 offered to donate land at the community college for a new CATEC facility. Since then, local officials periodically have discussed the move.
In August, the CATEC board convened a subcommittee to develop a final recommendation for whether to move forward with the relocation. The working group included Wade; Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools; Rosa Atkins, Charlottesville superintendent; county School Board member Stephen Koleszar; and Ned Michie, who then was a member of the Charlottesville School Board.
In November, the subcommittee decided CATEC should remain in its current building on Rio Road and adjust its strategic plan to increase its focus on career pathways in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing.
“We should be more focused on getting our programs right and getting the right location for each program,” Koleszar said. “CATEC is not just a building or a school — it is an umbrella structure for offering vocational programs that are needed.”
Albemarle is seeking to expand its high school system with new centers that will offer opportunities for experiential learning and community-based projects. Koleszar said Albemarle’s decisions about CATEC should be based on its overarching vision for high school.
“We should make sure CATEC fits into that vision, rather than do something to CATEC and find out it doesn’t work,” he said.
CATEC Director Daphne Keiser said learning opportunities provided through the center mesh well with Albemarle’s redesigned high school curriculum, known as High School 2022.
“We have been doing internships, job shadowing and apprenticeships for years and years,” Keiser said.
Koleszar said the potential cost of relocating to PVCC has always been an obstacle to proceeding with the plan.
“The city and county have a lot of capital needs,” Koleszar said. “There is not a lot of room for a new CATEC; even selling the current building would not cover cost of new building [at PVCC].”
A 2015 property appraisal from the Charlottesville-based firm Pape and Co. estimated that the CATEC board could sell the building and land for use by an institution for about $6.7 million.
In October, Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel said Friedman had estimated the cost of a new CATEC building on the college campus at $40 million.
McKeel consistently voiced support for relocating CATEC to PVCC when the option was on the table. However, she said she is hopeful that CATEC will continue to collaborate with PVCC to help meet the workforce needs of local businesses.
McKeel said Albemarle’s incoming economic development director, Roger Johnson, will be tasked with creating more work opportunities for CATEC students and graduates.
“I look forward to [Johnson’s] work on connecting our businesses to CATEC and other Albemarle County schools in order to provide relevant jobs for residents of our community,” McKeel said.
CATEC had 276 high school students enrolled in September — 24 more than in the previous year. However, the center enrolled more than 300 students in 2012.
Keiser said expanding the center’s instructional offerings in STEM fields would draw more interest from students and community partners.
“Students want variety. They want something novel, and they want to study fields where they feel like they can make a difference,” Keiser said.
“Offering diverse experiences lends itself to attracting a diverse group of students. If we do that, we will be more likely to have a robust enrollment.”
Charlottesville’s latest capital improvement program includes a $1 million roof replacement project for CATEC in fiscal year 2021. The city would split the cost of the project with Albemarle.
Keiser said the scheduled work on the roof could be an opportunity for further renovations to the building. She said a new maker space or a small conference center were two improvements at the top of her wish list.
“PVCC is our main partner,” Keiser said. “If we renovated and expanded, PVCC — or even the University of Virginia — could have a satellite center here.”