October 3, 2022
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Huntsville City Schools to build $25 million career tech center

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The problem with having what Christie Finley termed a “great problem” is that it’s still a problem.

That’s why Huntsville school officials and Mayor Tommy Battle gathered Friday at Jemison High School to announce what’s expected to be the solution: A 60,000 square foot career tech center that the school system will build adjacent to the new central office soon to be built on Memorial Parkway.

Finley, the Huntsville school system superintendent, said there are 600 students on a waiting list to enroll in career tech programs.

“What we see is we can’t meet the needs of the students that want to get into the program,” Finley said. “It’s a great problem. And so the awesome solution was that the city donated 14 acres that will house not only the central office, but more importantly, this new career technical (facility).”

Plans to relocate the school system’s central office from the aged Merts Center on White Street near downtown to a site at Max Luther Drive and Memorial Parkway were announced early last year as well as the city’s donation of $1 million to the construction project.

Those plans initially called for retail development at the site along with the school central office but the effort going forward will devote the site to the school system entirely with the addition of the career tech center.

Finley said the two buildings are forecast to cost $40 million to build – with $25 million earmarked for the career tech center. Construction is expected to start within the next year and students are expected at the tech center in the fall of 2025.

Huntsville City Schools has about 20 career tech programs that are spread across the district in different schools. The career tech center will bring many of those under one roof while other programs will remain at their current locations due to investments already in place.

Finley said career tech – which includes training for jobs such as welding, HVAC and plumbing, among others – is no longer looked down upon.

“Many times, students have graduated really not knowing what to do,” Finley said. “And that was a stigma many years ago, going into career tech as part of an elective option as a high school student. It’s not a stereotype anymore. We have students that want to be in these programs. They know it leads to opportunities in the workforce right out of school, some of our students are already interning as juniors in some of our programs.”

Michelle Watkins, District 1 representative on the school board, said, “A lot of people that know me know career tech near and dear to my heart. I taught career tech. Career tech is the reason why you’re sitting in this building. It’s from the plumbing to the electricity to the construction. It’s all about career tech. And if we’re not going to send our kids to college when they graduate high school, we need to send them to work with a viable, livable income.”

Carlos Mathews, president of the school board, perhaps summed it up in saying, “This is a huge deal for our city.”

The demand for career tech employment is soaring in Huntsville with the industrial growth in the city as well as the urgency to build more housing for a growing population.

“Maybe (graduates) are not going to go off to college or maybe they’re going to go to a two-year program, but they can come straight into the workforce and today they have that opportunity and opportunity is the most important thing,” Battle said. “They have an opportunity to go out and get a great job. Get a job paying $50,000 a year that has that has benefits where they can put food on the table put a roof over their head. They can raise a family and they have that potential of doing that and that’s what is so important about this. The idea of our technical center sitting right here is that does great things for our community.”



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