Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center

As the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center moves forward with a strategic plan aimed at modernizing programming and aligning students with middle-skill jobs, local officials are beginning to face some challenging questions about facilities.

“Our spaces that are in here were built to be a culinary arts facility, or built to be an automotive facility, and nothing short of gutting is going to be able to transform some of those spaces into something else,” said Adam Hastings, CATEC’s Director.

One of the strategic plan’s goals is to blend the last two years of high school with the first two years of college by collaborating with Piedmont Virginia Community College on curriculum. Frank Friedman, President of PVCC, said the community college would be glad to play home to a new facility.

“We’re very interested in pursuing it if you’re interested in pursuing it,” Friedman said, adding that he would need formal approval from PVCC’s Board to move forward. “We think we have land available that would be suitable.”  

The advantage to this approach, Friedman added, is that the strategic plan already calls for the two institutions to work together.

“Since that is going to require a much closer alignment of PVCC and CATEC in terms of the curriculum, it makes a load of sense to have one shared facility for that curriculum,” Friedman said.

While no financial plans have been made for new construction or the potential sale of CATEC’s current home on Rio Road, both localities would face significant financial investment to move forward. An alternative to a complete relocation, Friedman said, would be to house some programs at PVCC and others at CATEC.

“Whereas that might be all new costs, it might be a smaller version you might say, where some of the things that are going to stay in the curriculum would make sense to stay [at CATEC], where the facility serves it well,” Friedman said.

In June, Hastings will return to the Board with more information about a potential move.

The strategic plan calls for CATEC to shift toward a model of five institutes: Skilled Trades, Customer Service, Early Childhood Education, Healthcare Services, and Manufacturing and Information Technology.

Since the Skilled Trades, Customer Service and Healthcare Services institutes will result largely from existing programs, Hastings said thus far the strategic plan steering committee has done the most work fleshing out Manufacturing and IT, as well as Early Childhood Education.

What they’ve learned about Manufacturing and IT, Hastings said, is how much they don’t know.

“When I go to my resources at the Virginia Department of Education around career and technical education, they’re not there,” Hastings said. “As a whole in career and technical education, we still think of blue coveralls, and hardhats, and steel plants and smelting when we think of manufacturing.”

“To me, as we build out a curriculum at CATEC, I think it’s essential to understand that the knowledge base doesn’t currently exist in our resources for career and technical education,” Hastings added.

To bring that knowledge base into the school, Hastings has visited other career and technical education centers, as well as local manufacturers, and hopes to invite a local group of makers—the Charlottesville Tinkersmiths—to set up shop in CATEC.

“They have found a way outside of PVCC, outside of CATEC and outside of the schools to come together and learn how to take things from concept to deployment,” Hastings said of the nearly 150-member community group.

The hope, Hastings said, is that CATEC would be able to build an advanced manufacturing curriculum based on what comes out of this experience.

“We’d be getting the advantage of working with people who are pushing the envelope,” Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran said.

While the Board asked for a more formal presentation on the matter at its June meeting, both Moran and Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said they’d like to see how this advanced manufacturing curriculum would fit into the collaborative efforts already underway between the schools and the University of Virginia.

In addition to decisions regarding CATEC’s future, the Board also voted Tuesday to eliminate programs that have struggled with enrollment. Starting next year, the school will no longer offer masonry, green energy or barbering courses.

Course offerings are evaluated against student interest in the form of enrollment, interest from the business community, and an ability to link to community college or post-secondary training options.

Hastings said that those students will, however, have the opportunity to receive similar training at CATEC.

The Board will continue its discussion about facilities and programming at the June meeting.