Ambitious projects at Aiken Technical College and the Aiken County Public School District will create new pathways for workforce development.
Aiken Tech will build a new, state-of-the-art Nursing Education Center. The school district will replace its aging Career and Technology Center with a new facility. The combination will allow both institutions to expand educational programs to train future job seekers in myriad fields.
The school district has started looking at fields that are in demand and growing.
“We’ve talked about a few specifics, particularly with cyber,” said Superintendent King Laurence. “Cyber is huge in our area right now. So, we’re looking at what we’re doing from a computer science standpoint and from cyber in K through 12 and then seamlessly moving into Aiken Technical College. Then we’ve included USC-Aiken getting in that conversation too, with the advanced manufacturing over there and with the National Guard locating its center.
Both projects received a financial boost from money that settled a lawsuit stemming from the U.S. Department of Energy’s failed mixed oxide fuel fabrication plant that was to be built at SRS and the weapons grade plutonium that was brought to the plant to be converted into fuel pellets.
Aiken schools received $30 million from the SRS settlement money. Originally, the district planned to build the new CTC on land it owns along Jefferson Davis Highway.
“But when I was talking with Forest Mahan, president at the technical college, we came to the conclusion that the best option was simply to put it right there on campus,” explained Laurence. “They were planning a demolition of those original 1972 buildings anyway. So that provided the perfect site for us and provided good visibility from the road.”
The superintendent was referring to demolition that began in late March on the 500/600 building. It is one of the oldest buildings on the Aiken Tech campus.
“No swinging of any wrecking balls or implosions, I thought that would have been a little bit more dramatic,” quipped Mahan. “But they have started the demolition. They’re starting from the inside for the 600 Building. The outer walls are still up, but that’s just the shell, the rest of the stuff has been excavated.”
Also scheduled for demolition are the 400 and 300 buildings.
But the college is not just demolishing, it is clearing the way for construction of a new, state-of-the-art Nursing Education Center, working to meet the current shortage of healthcare workers, particularly nurses.
To assist with that project, Aiken Tech received $11.5 million from the SRS settlement money. That was added to $3 million already in hand to provide seed money for the 30,000 square foot building. The college will look for additional revenue for the project.
“We’re looking to figure out the best way to finance the equipment and the internal part of the building,” Mahan said. “So, we’re looking at different options there. And then based upon the outcomes of those, we may then turn to looking at a fundraising effort to raise money for the equipment.”
Combined, the college and CTC will be able to provide additional training programs for existing subjects, add new training programs not currently offered and expand dual enrollment opportunities.
“There are a lot of people in South Carolina and around the country who are doing some innovative things, but I believe that what we’re doing with Aiken Tech, they get technical knowledge,’ Laurence said.” Not just locating our facility on their site, but actually integrating with them and making sure that we’re creating a progression from K through 12 through higher ed by doing that, so that our students have a continuation of learning while they’re entering the workforce.”
“By putting them on our campus, that helps build a synergy for the growth and we would love to expand opportunities for dual enrollment, dual credit and the technical programs, because there are a lot of high wage, high demand jobs that are out there,” Mahan added. “So, if you can have a high school student get a credential from the high school and then graduate with something from us, whether it be in something like welding, or it could be in any of the technical fields, that at least having them on our campus is they’re able to then move freely from that space to our established advanced manufacturing, nuclear buildings and the like.”
It will also mean students can complete their education with credentials or a two-year degree for an in-demand discipline and immediately enter the workforce.
“A lot of the jobs coming to South Carolina require more than high school, but not necessarily the four-year degree. But that doesn’t mean that by coming to us and getting into the workforce, they don’t go get a bachelor’s degree,” Mahan explained. “It’s just that if they can get into the workforce. Then what they can do is likely avail themselves to different types of tuition reimbursement, so their employer can help them get that next credential. So, we really try to emphasize the importance of stackable credentials.”
Neither school is waiting for the new buildings to be up and in operation. The school district is expanding health science opportunities for the 2023-2024 school year at the current CTC. Aiken Tech is beginning a new cohort this May for licensed practical nursing students and associate degree students who will be able to go to school at night.
When businesses want to locate in a new area, or expand and existing operation, one of the most valuable assets is an educated, skilled workforce.
“When you’re able to coordinate those efforts, and design pathways, so that students are able to see the progression and see what they need to do and they can make a choice ‘Here’s what I have to do, here are my next steps,’ and we’ve got that all mapped out for them so they reach the career goals that they have,” Laurence said.
While Aiken Tech has not yet selected the location for the new facility, it expects the planning phase to last through this year with a groundbreaking in early 2024. It should take about 18 months to complete construction.
The Aiken school district is in the middle of architecture and engineering for the new CTC. It hopes to break ground in early 2024 with a target to open for the 2025-2026 school year.