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Major investment in education coming to Atwater

A site plan of the high school career training facility that will be located on a 6-acre parcel of school district-owned land off of SP Avenue near the Teasdale processing plant in Atwater.
A site plan of the high school career training facility that will be located on a 6-acre parcel of school district-owned land off of SP Avenue near the Teasdale processing plant in Atwater.

By ROBIN SHEPARD

Times Correspondent

A $10 million high school career training facility is expected to break ground in Atwater within a year, according to Alan Peterson, superintendent of the Merced Union High School District.

The 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse-style center, located on a 6-acre parcel of District-owned land off of SP Avenue near the Teasdale processing plant, will house the majority of the District’s Career and Technical Education programs, giving local students a centralized location for their career education needs.

“We’ve been working with local government agencies to construct a warehouse building with multiple classrooms,” Peterson said, noting that MUHSD has saved half of the project’s expected capital expense.

“We’ve set aside a fair amount of money for this project, Peterson said, “but it’s about half of what we need, so we have approached the various legislators in our area, such as Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, along with both potential labor and private industry partners.

“Everyone has been amazingly supportive and has pledged to assist the District in raising the additional $5 million,” he said.

Peterson is confident that funding will be provided as interested stakeholders recognize the importance of the proposed center to accomplish local education goals, and to prepare graduating students for the workforce.

“We want every student who receives a diploma in our District to also receive CTE certification,” Peterson said.

In fact, Peterson said, MUHSD is a leader in the state as the first high school district to mandate CTE credits to fulfill graduation requirements.

With more than 30 career-path educational components, MUHSD “is currently leading the region in preparing students to be BOTH college and career ready,” according to Peterson’s letter to the community posted on the District’s website.

In fact, so important are CTE programs that the District’s vision statement puts it front and center: “Every student will walk off the graduation stage with a diploma in one hand and CTE certification/proficiency in the other along with college credit on their transcript.”

Currently, CTE programs are housed in various facilities throughout the local area, including Castle Commerce Center where, for example, diesel engine mechanics are being trained in a building that has reached its limits.

“That facility is antiquated obviously,” Peterson said, “and we share it with the County Office of Education. It’s very old and it doesn’t have the square footage we need to expand the program.”

For example, the Castle site won’t allow for the District’s construction trades program to create an electricians journeyman component. And while students are trained to work on diesel engines, there isn’t an opportunity to grow a truck driver’s school. A large, central facility would solve those issues, Peterson said.

CTE programs across the state are expanding as students find new pathways into a career field, and while the State of California “does an excellent job of funding CTE programs for new equipment and getting these programs off the ground, the state doesn’t fund facilities to house them,” Peterson said.

Currently, the CTE programs that the District administers include training in the areas of agriculture and natural resources; business and finance; energy, environment and utilities; engineering and architecture; health science and medical technology; and more.

Peterson said MUHSD’s CTE programs are leading the region in the development of curriculum, and that the focus will remain on integrating career education into the core educational philosophy of the District.

He said he expects the new center will be completed and the CTE programs operating on site within a few years.

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