The Career Education Center makes its debut

Times Record News (senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults)

Slightly egg-shaped chairs.

Green accent walls.

A “learning stair.”

Twenty-six cosmetology stations.

A glowing audio-visual room with green curtain.

Concrete pads on which to build a house.

A robotics and engineering area.

A medical microbiology course.

One thing’s for sure.

The Wichita Falls ISD’s new $28 million Career Education Center, which made its official debut with a ribbon cutting Tuesday morning, isn’t your grandma’s high school — or mom or dad’s high school, for that matter.

This is a career-minded facility with its finger on the pulse of emerging, oftentimes high-tech careers.

A few hundred attendees got their first peek at the 123,000-square-feet facility at 500 E. Hatton Road, thanks to an almost $60 million bond passed by voters in May 2015.

Roughly 1,300 students and more than 23 teachers will roam the new facility’s hallways after school starts Aug. 17, taking courses from among the 26 career pathways that will be offered by the school.

“For students today, it’s more of an experience instead of students sitting in rows. We don’t like that,” said Superintendent Michael Kuhrt at the ribbon cutting, also attended by leaders from such organizations as Vernon College and the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce & Industry, among others in the business and education community.

Kuhrt said the new facility “instills hope.”

“We made it. We’re here today. … This project is on time and under budget.”

Henry Florsheim, president and CEO of the Chamber, said when he arrived in Wichita Falls several years ago, there was no relationship between the Wichita Falls ISD and the Chamber.

“All of a sudden, we began sticking our nose in education. … Before we co-existed; now we’re allies.”

He added how important this new facility is to developing a strong workforce: “If you cannot provide a workforce they (businesses) need, they’re not coming (to Wichita Falls). … I heard this is the first high school that has been built in 50 years. Well, it’s about time.”

Following the ribbon cutting, attendees toured the two-story, T-shaped building, whose construction was under the helm of Trinity Hughes/Sundt.

“We probably are the best (welding) facility in the state of Texas right now,” said welding instructor Gary Cunningham, who cut the ribbon with a blowtorch to open the CEC. “ … They have allowed us to have a wonderful facility. We actually certify kids when they come out. … They have the opportunity to walk out of here with a (welding) certificate.”

Cunningham said the welding shop is going through the process of receiving a certification from the Canadian Welding Bureau, a rare feat, he said, since the shop would be one of three he knows of to receive such a certification once the process is completed.

Career Education Center Principal Synthia Kirby said, “One of my biggest concerns all over Carrigan was the exhaust. … We have taken care of that problem. We have good space.”

The district’s new CEC takes over where the previous career center, Carrigan, left off. Carrigan had become an inadequate space for the district’s needs, particularly in the face of House Bill 5, which has changed graduation requirements. Students now have to choose one of five “endorsements,” or career paths. Carrigan housed five of the district’s career programs: collision repair, construction, cosmetology, electronics and welding. Hirschi, Rider and Wichita Falls high schools also have been home to some career-oriented classes.

David Boller, who teaches auto collision repair, was amazed at the difference between the new and old career centers.

“We’ve been using the same equipment at Carrigan since the facility opened. … Now we have the best (equipment) in the industry … compared to equipment before that was 30 years old,” he said.

One of the areas of the school Kirby touted was the architecture and construction areas, which are across the hall from each other.

“Their goal is to build a house and sell it. … We’re hoping to build a home every other year.”

She said the idea is for architecture students to design the houses and the construction team will build it.

“The thing we love about this (house-building) project is … there are so many different areas here (from architecture to construction to electrical) that’s going to tie into that.”

Another neat aspect of the CEC, said Kirby, is that the community can walk in and pay to get their hair or nails done in the cosmetology area or get their bumper repaired in the collision repair shop. Community members will walk into a reception space, just like they would at a salon or auto shop.

“We’re going to be building projects — build trailers … from deer feeders to deer blinds,” said ag teacher Stephen Davis.

“We’re open for business. We have customers. … They’ve made deer feeders, deer blinds,” Kirby said.

Students can also take culinary classes in a modern, industrial kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances. It’s where they’ll start their culinary path by getting their food handler’s license. There’s the audio-production area, graphics design lab and medical microbiology, too.

“We’re going to talk about parasites and bacteria,” said medical microbiology teacher Sabrina Bradley.

“I’m pumped up for this class. I can’t wait,” said Wichita Falls High School junior Aubrie Kuhrt, who will be working on her EMT certification with sister Emma.

Said Career and Technical Education Coordinator Michelle Wood, “Our goal for this community and this building is to let kids find passions and desires and things they never knew they always wanted.”

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.