By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
The Killeen Independent School District welcomed one of the first visitors to its new Career Center Monday, as it prepares to complete the facility for use during the 2012-13 school year.
District officials gave Tom Pauken, one of three commissioners sitting on the Texas Workforce Commission, a tour of the 142,000-square-foot facility at 1322 Stagecoach Road.
"You all have done a really great job," said Pauken, who also visited Temple College and Central Texas College during his trip Monday. "It's very impressive."
While construction crews continued to work on the building, Pauken was able to visit several of the center's labs and classrooms, which will serve high school students, mostly seniors and juniors, looking to earn and credits and professional certifications in nine career "clusters" including health science, information technology, agriculture, food and natural resources; arts, audio/visual technology and communications; transportation, distribution and logistics; architecture and construction; law, public safety, corrections and security; and manufacturing and human services.
Max Cleaver, the district's executive director of facilities services, said the center has 61 teaching spaces, including 33 regular classrooms, four fully equipped science labs, 13 computer labs, a lecture hall and 10 "specialty" labs for specific programs.
Those specialty labs included an information technology lab, which will be used to teach students how to put together a computer, and features removable floor tiles so they will be able to learn how to wire them into a network.
Another was a health sciences medical lab, which will be outfitted with 10 patient beds to allow students to practice in simulated situations.
Pauken also was shown construction, welding and automotive workshops, all of which the district plans to outfit with technology and equipment that meets current industry standards.
"I feel like (the district) really listened to what we needed and gave us the equipment and space to prepare these kids for their careers," said LaMisha Stinson, an instructor for the district's cosmetology program. "It gives them the confidence to know that they will be able to work at a professional level."
Stinson, along with other cosmetology instructors and students, were busy unpacking equipment in their lab, which features styling stations, sinks and hair dryer chairs, and other professional equipment.
"It's very exciting," said Joseph Taylor, a cosmetology student who will attend the center as a junior next year. "These are the tools we need to complete our training, and it will give a us a heads-up when we graduate."
Pauken said facilities like the center won't just provide students with training, but also will provide employers with skilled laborers in the area of vocational trades.
"These are trades with an aging workforce. For example, the average age of a master plumber is 56 years old," he said. "These industries are looking for people coming out of school with the right certifications, training and knowledge."
Pauken said education facilities like the district's career center were an important step in providing vocational training for students looking for an alternative to college, or who want to work and attend some form of higher education when they graduate.
"We need to focus and strengthen these programs," he said. "There used to be a pipeline into these industries that funneled skilled students into these jobs, but we've neglected that and the pipeline is drying up."
The construction of the center was part of a $26 million facilities project that included the construction of the adjacent Pathways campus, which opened in August 2011.
Speaking Monday, Cleaver said the facility's construction is on track and it is still scheduled to open for the 2012-13 school year. Approximately 950 students have enrolled at the center.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.