Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center

While facilities questions have loomed over recent meetings of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center Board, the body Tuesday turned its attention to curriculum changes.

“I think we are letting the discussion regarding facilities distract us from the decision that needs to come first, and that’s CATEC’s programming,” said board Chairwoman Willa Neale. “The core of the strategic plan is the career path integration, linking CATEC’s curricula with Piedmont Virginia Community College’s with essential input from employers.”

“The location in which this all happens is important but it’s just one component of the conversation, and certainly not the most important part,” Neale added.

In March, the CATEC board adopted a strategic plan in an attempt to modernize the technical school programmatically by aligning the center more closely with PVCC. The plan’s end goal is to better-prepare CATEC students for middle-skill jobs — jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

According to the initial plan, CATEC was slated to transform into five institutes: Skilled Trades; Customer Service; Early Childhood Education; Healthcare Services; and Information Technology and Engineering Technology (formerly Manufacturing and Information Technology).

The updated list now has four institutes: Health and Medical Sciences; Information Technology and Engineering Technology; Skilled Trades and Recreation; and Leisure and Retail Management.

“These are the four areas where we felt we could get our students credentials … and meet the needs of the community,” said Rosa Atkins, superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools.

No existing programs will be cut under the new model, but Atkins and Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, recommended not offering the Early Childhood Institute because those credits from PVCC don’t transfer to the University of Virginia.

“So you have a program that doesn’t equip people with a license that would allow them to develop and build that out,” Moran said.

The two superintendents also suggested removing the Customer Service Institute because each of the new institutes will have customer service skills embedded in them.

With respect to the institutes that would start in the fall of 2015, Moran recommended that the first two be the Health and Medical Sciences Institute and the Information Technology and Engineering Technology Institute.

The Health and Medical Sciences Institute would include dental, nursing, pharmacy and medical coding courses. Atkins said the employers she has spoken with can’t find enough people to meet the demand in medical coding.

The Information Technology and Engineering Technology Institute would include computer system security and computer system networking.

“It’s a growing area that we should be paying attention to because they are high-paying jobs that lead to career pathways,” Moran said.

The board also voted to hire a temporary strategic coordinator in December.

This person would be dedicated to the strategic plan to “get the new CATEC off the ground,” Moran said, noting that the board should think of this position as having a two-year lifespan.

“It’s a critical position to carry us to the next step,” said Kate Acuff, a member of the Albemarle School Board and CATEC’s board.

The board also reached consensus to begin a renaming process for CATEC starting in the coming weeks.

The board’s conversation Tuesday did not come without mention of facilities.

Dean Tistadt, chief operations officer for Albemarle County Public Schools, presented the board with three scenarios.

The first, which comes with an estimated price tag of $1.4 million, is a modernization of the existing CATEC building that would focus only on learning spaces.

The second scenario is a complete renovation of CATEC, which would cost about $8.1 million. This scenario assumes a price of $150 per square foot of the 54,184-square-foot facility, Tistadt said.

The third scenario involves constructing a facility at Piedmont, with an estimated cost of $15.9 million to $20.2 million.

“[The] major unknown is site work, as a specific site has not been identified or evaluated,” Tistadt said. “None of these estimates speak specifically to additional costs associated with decisions about what programs will be offered at CATEC since those decisions have not yet been made.”

To determine whether a relocation of CATEC to PVCC is financially viable, staff will be issuing a request for proposals to determine the current property’s value.

Additionally, the school is facing an approximately $300,000 investment to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Regardless of where CATEC is in the future, Neale said the technical education center needs to lead students to jobs.

“We need to harness the various educational and workforce development efforts in our community into a coordinated model where we provide employers and colleges an integrated approach to talent development and our students and families with a clear vision of what their studies can lead to — real work opportunities,” Neale said.