Documents are signed, the ink is dry, and the site has been finalized for the Aiken County Public School District’s new Career and Technology Center to be built on the campus of Aiken Technical College.
Dr. Forest Mahan, President of Aiken Tech, Joe Lewis, Chairman of the Aiken County Commission for Technical and Comprehensive Education, Cam Nuessle, Chairman of the Aiken County Board of Education, and District Superintendent, King Laurence signed the memorandum of understanding on Friday.
The MOU formalized the long-discussed plan to build the CTC on the campus. The new center will be between 90,000 and 100,000 square feet and will be built where Aiken Tech has demolished the aging 500 and 600 buildings.
“Actually, seeing those 1970’s era buildings come down, being here for the ceremony and actually signing the MOU. It just really makes it real. And we’re able to see the progress,” Laurence said.
Gary Bunker, Chairman of Aiken County Council, said replacing the CTC, which was built in the 1960’s, is long overdue. Putting it on the Aiken Tech campus is the right choice, allowing more opportunities for dual enrollment for high school students.
“And from the workforce development perspective, these synergies can be very substantial,” he said. “These represent real-world skills, real-world applications, and real-world jobs in our environment today, where thousands of positions in the Aiken County economy remain unfilled. These programs have a direct and measurable economic impact. And by no means, let us not forget the benefits to the students with so many critical skills lacking across not only the county, but the nation at large.”
The Aiken County School District received 30 million dollars from the SRS lawsuit settlement money. The lawsuit stemmed 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.
Mahan said, although their priority is Aiken County, the partnership can also benefit students in Richmond and Columbia counties who can attend Aiken Tech and pay in-state tuition.
“So, when we’re talking about workforce pipeline, we have an opportunity from K through 12. And through the first two years of college to really kind of meet the needs of the region,” he said. “Even Chairman Bunker stated, we still have thousands of jobs open in Aiken County in particular. And that’s largely due to the fact of just skills mismatch. We just got to get people the skills for the jobs that are out there. And this gets a great opportunity to start in high school, if not earlier, getting them in those career paths.”
“Think about that manufacturing in Georgia. A lot of that workforce is going to live in South Carolina,” Laurence added. “So, we have the opportunity to get them started while they’re in middle school and high school and be trained for those career opportunities.”
Mahan said education and training at his campus and the CTC can prepare students in as little as two years for a well-paying job, while keeping open the door should the student want to go on to a four-year college degree.
Laurence said the district hopes to have the new CTC ready for the 2025-2026 school year.