What will Collinsville's vocational center get with a $25 million state grant?
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
The Collinsville Area Vocational Center is getting some major upgrades with the help of a $25 million state grant that will allow it to expand its programming and serve more students.
The longtime cooperative program is housed on the western side of Collinsville High School and provides vocational training in a wide variety of trades to juniors and seniors from nine area high schools. Most classes are dual-credit with Southwestern Illinois College.
Director Joe McGinnis said the center’s student enrollment has grown in recent years due to increasing student and industry demand as well as the addition of new programming like cyber security and dental assisting.
The center is now out of space to add more programming, he said, and having to turn away interested students.
The center currently has 540 students, according to McGinnis. Last year, over 100 interested students had to be turned away. This year, that number rose to about 170 students.
What’s more, the changing technologies and equipment have made some of the spaces in the facility cramped, he said, especially for the industrial trades.
“We kind of recognized that if we’re going to be that regional resource to help students find that initial first step into the workforce, we needed to expand and update the facility,” McGinnis said.
The construction of the CAVC was completed in 1971, he said, making it one of the 32 original career and vocational centers in the state of Illinois. Since that time, some of the centers have fallen to the wayside due to funding issues. There are 25 today, with the new South Central Illinois Training & Innovation Center in Litchfield being the first center to be established since the 1970s.
The forthcoming efforts will involve both the construction of a new building and the renovation of the current one.
Collinsville Community Unit School District 10 is receiving a $25 million grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the center’s expansion and renovation. McGinnis said this grant will cover a large portion of the expenses, but not all of it.
He said the Collinsville Area Community Foundation has also created an endowment for the center’s expansion and continued improvement. This will allow the center to create private partnerships for classroom and equipment sponsorships, essentially becoming another funding source.
The district is currently in the design process for the new facility and renovations of the existing facility, working with the district’s architect and construction manager, Superintendent Brad Skertich said.
McGinnis said the district is hoping to complete the land acquisition for the new facility — the current floor plan for which is about 49,000 square feet — in the next month and for the state to release the grant money in December or January.
As long as the money is released around then, the district is far enough along in the design process to break ground on the new facility in March or April, he said. Construction would continue through the 2024-25 school year with the aim of having students in the building for the 2025-26 school year.
McGinnis said the project will happen in three phases. First, the district will build the expansion and move the industrial programs over to the new building. Then, it will renovate the rooms those programs previously occupied at the existing facility and move programs into those new rooms. Finally, the last rooms will be renovated and programs will move in.
More programming, more students
McGinnis said the CAVC currently offers training in:
- Auto body and automotive repair
- Building trades (through which students have built numerous houses in the community)
- Clinical health occupations (including certified nursing assisting)
- Cosmetology (which occurs off-site)
- Criminal justice
- Cyber security
- Dental assisting
- Early childhood education (which includes a center-run pre-school)
- Food service
- K-12 teacher preparation (to address the state’s teacher shortage)
- Precision machining
With the expansion and renovation, he said the center is looking to add programming for urban agriculture and landscape management; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (which the center provided about 20 years ago and is now bringing back); aviation mechanics and avionics; veterinary assisting; and renewable energy installation.
The center will also be looking to increase its student enrollment to 800 students per year, McGinnis said, which would be an increase of 260 students from the current enrollment.
He said the center is also open to working with more high schools. It currently serves nine high schools in Madison and St. Clair Counties: Collinsville High School, Civic Memorial High School, Dupo High School, East Alton-Wood River High School, Edwardsville High School, Highland High School, Lebanon High School, Mascoutah High School and Triad High School.
The center is a resource for these schools, McGinnis said, working in conjunction with existing career and technical education programs they may already have.
Impact on students
For students that are looking for a job right out of high school, McGinnis said the center is generally able to set them up with an employer before they leave.
“The demand is that great,” he said. “We also see students that find out what they don’t want to do ... That’s a huge value as well.”
He said this is often the case with certified nursing assisting. Some students want to get into the medical field, but after getting some experience in a hospital setting and doing some of the “unsavory portions” of the job, they realize it’s not for them.
McGinnis said this is good, too, because the students find out that a certain career isn’t what they want to do without having to spend a significant amount of time or money.
He said it’s great when he hears back from students and employers whenever they visit that things are working out.
“That’s always a very refreshing thing to hear, to know that we are having that impact and setting students up with great careers, hopefully in a way where they don’t have to take on a lot of college debt and make a good life,” McGinnis said.
Kelly Smits is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.