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Culpeper School Board views construction of Technical Education Center
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Culpeper School Board views construction of Technical Education Center

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Culpeper school officials have spent years sweating the details of the county’s Technical Education Center, but Tuesday brought home how well the project is coming along.

For the first time, the School Board toured the $17.3 million school being built beside Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center. For most of the seven board members, it was their initial visit.

“The recent naming of the school had made it tangible, but the visit made it real,” Superintendent Tony Brads said Wednesday of the tour. “... In the midst of mostly bad news related to the many struggles due to the pandemic, this was definitely a feel-good moment.”

School Board Chair Pat Baker, retired after 37 years teaching in Culpeper and Fauquier, said during Tuesday’s visit that seeing the 50,000-square-foot building made her want to teach again, or to be one of the first students in the new facility.

A midpoint break in the board’s annual retreat, a daylong meeting in the studio at Culpeper County High School, the visit made a little history. As board members—sitting socially distanced on a school bus—made their way onto the property, theirs was the first school bus to access the site via Frank Turnage Drive, named after Germanna Community College’s late president, and to travel the bus loop around the building.

Inside, the enthusiasm of board members and school administrators was evident as they poked their heads—wearing hard hats—into nearly every part of the sprawling structure, while workmen with Loughridge Construction of Richmond beavered away.

“Amazing,” Brads said as he admired the building’s spacious, high-ceilinged foyer.

The school’s culinary arts department, anchored by a massive ventilation structure for the many-yards-long hood over its stoves and ovens, also drew admiring remarks.

So did the building’s 428-foot central corridor, longer than a football field. With its ceiling, punctuated by skylights for natural light, the corridor has the width, height and feeling of a great hall, Brads said.

Ditto for the wide, metal-roofed awning that stretches across the exterior of the school’s building trades department. The shelter will enable trades students to construct framing and other structures in the open air, much as they would on a construction site. That will be important for students learning the ropes, local builders have told school officials.

The awning is plenty large enough to accomodate a Habitat for Humanity house, yet protect it from direct sun and tuck it out of the way, noted Rob Hauman, the school division’s instructional director.

Hauman and Brads both noted that area craftsmen have expressed their excitement about the schools’ building trades facilities.

The awning was one of several optional add-ons that the School Board tacked onto the project. So, too, was a big divider in the school’s multi-purpose training room that, Brads joked, will enable it to house classes for Ford people and Chevy people simultaneously.

The board also added innovative storage on the building’s mezzanine so that toolboxes and equipment of all sorts can be kept readily accessible but out from under foot on the floor of the school’s educational spaces.

Easily seen by motorists on U.S. 29, the school will have a standing-seam metal roof that makes it a candidate for photovoltaic panels that could generate most of the electricity it will need. School officials are still negotiating the details with solar vendor SunTribe, but hope that option will be feasible.

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If the School Board commits to installing solar panels on CTEC, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative would buy back the power they generate, giving the school division a credit.

In their first year, the panels should generate 732,513 kilowatt-hours of electricity, said Stacy Timmons, the school division’s operations director.

That’s enough to supply about 67 homes for an American utility’s average residential customer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

When finished, the building’s exterior will look much different than it does now, temporarily colored a bright yellow by spray-on insulation on the steel structure. Since the School Board decided in late October to name the school the Culpeper Technical Education Center, construction workers have completed its exterior insulation and begun siding the building.

RRMM Architects in Chesapeake, the building’s designer, is “really excited” about the center, which is one of the newest career and technical schools to be built in Virginia. The firm anticipates the school will receive lots of visits from architects and officials from other localities keen to see what Culpeper has created, Hauman said.

School Board members expressed pleasure about the building’s progress and enthusiasm for the educational offerings the new school will make possible.

New courses at CTEC will include automotive technology, cybersecurity, cosmetology, emergency medical technician training, building trades, industrial maintenance and diesel equipment training.

Culpeper County Public Schools’ existing classes in health care, culinary arts, drafting and computer-aided design will move to the facility.

Courses in agriculture, Marine Corps JROTC, family and consumer sciences, marketing, business and Information technology, graphic design and sports medicine will stay at Culpeper County and Eastern View high schools.

The School Board’s tour occurred 13 months, to the day, from its Oct. 17, 2019, groundbreaking at the site.

“Watching the building come to life from the planning phase to each step of construction is a dream come true for me,” Randi Richards-Lutz, the division’s director of career and technical education, said Wednesday.

In the near future, school officials will post a virtual tour so everyone, including students, can see how the school is coming along, Lutz said.

“Our focus to prepare CTEC graduates for their future careers with hands-on learning becomes more of a reality each day,” she said. “As I walked through the building yesterday, I felt so excited for what’s to come—not only for our students, but for our businesses as we partner together to give authentic workplace experiences and for our community as we continue to build a strong workforce together.”

The project’s aim is to see that CTEC students not only graduate with a high-school diploma, but also with an industry credential and the ability to enter the workforce directly, debt free, or to pursue more training after high school while earning a high wage, Lutz said.

“This will be an incredible legacy,” Lutz told the School Board and fellow staff members before their site visit Tuesday. “And all of us in this room can say we were part of it.”

Situated at 17441 Frank Turnage Drive, CTEC is scheduled to open in the fall of 2021.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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