AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — Tech is growing in Aiken County and the school district is looking to keep up with the movement.
The building has stood the test of time.”We are in a facility that’s over 50 years old,” Aiken County Public School District Superintendent King Laurence said. But now, time is catching up with it. “Technology changes, the needs of the community changes, the programs that we need to offer all of those things change over time,” Laurence added.
Now a possible plan is underway. Aiken County Schools is looking to replace its current career and technology center. “We need to have the state-of-the-art facilities, whether it’s for cosmetology and barbering, or whether it’s for welding and automotive technology,” he said. “We need to be able to have a place that allows for the new technologies to be brought in and ensure that our students are prepared when they go into the workforce to not have to be retrained by their employer,” he added.
The discussions about a new career and technology center began with the district’s penny sales tax campaign in 2014. “The career and technology center was actually going to be, if we have enough money at the end, a project that we would be able to do. There were four other projects that were the priorities for that round of funding and then the career and technology center would happen if we were able to,” Laurence recalled. “It started looking like, as we approached the end of this penny sales tax cycle which ends in 2024, that we were going to be able to at least get started on that project. But we were short with some of the funding,” he added.
Laurence added that Senator Tom Young suggested that if the district could find matching money, perhaps they could earmark some of the money in the settlement for the new facility. “We settled on $30 million thinking that with our match through the penny sales tax, we would be able to create a true state-of-the-art center and use the space that is available on Aiken Technical College’s campus,” he shared.
“We work with [Aiken Tech] through dual enrollment opportunities and cybersecurity as well as mechanical architecture, adapting, and designs. We definitely wanna expand those opportunities, including welding, health science, construction services, and many other programs that we know are much needed in this community,” Director of Aiken County Career and Technology Center Kenneth Lott said. “We know we have a pipeline of students that are ready for those post-secondary experiences in the workforce,” he added.
Thirty million dollars for the construction of the new facility will come from the federal government’s plutonium settlement with the state. The new facility will be a lease agreement with Aiken Tech, without having to purchase the land from the college. All students within the district will be able to use the center. “Regardless of the collaboration, it’s just time for a new facility to further prepare our students for global opportunities and secondary success,” Lott said.
The project is now in the hands of the state legislature. School leaders hope movement on the new facility will happen early in the upcoming legislative session. Meanwhile, for the old facility, school leaders say they’ll keep it. “We’ll keep that property with the expectation that if in the future we need to place a facility there, we’ll be able to do that,” Laurence said. He added that the district would love to begin construction almost immediately. “As soon as we’re approved by the legislature and the governor signs it then we’ve got architects ready to go ahead and start the design. and we’ll be able to begin building,” Laurence said. “Typically it takes anywhere from eight to 24 months to bring a new facility online. So we would be looking if we were able to get started this spring or this summer, we could be finished by late 2024, which would be a great aggressive timeline for getting this done,” he added.