USD 232 planning centralized career and technical center, early childhood facility on one site

A rendering of the Career & Technical Center and Early Childhood Center in one facility.

After years of conversations about finding new ways to get students career ready after graduation, Unified School District 232 is advancing plans to build a dedicated Career & Technical Education Center to better serve the needs of students.

Once complete, the new center will be connected to a new Early Childhood Center as one facility located on district-owned property on the northeast corner of 83rd Street and Mize Boulevard next to Mill Creek Middle.

“We want every student in our school district, when they graduate, to be prepared to go to college, but we also recognize that not every student needs or wants to go to college,” said Alvie Cater, district spokesperson. “What we have to do is a better job of exposing students to a variety of career and job opportunities that are out there where you can make a really good living doing something that interests you and doing something for which you have skills, an aptitude for, an enjoyment for.”

District spokesperson Alvie Cater

The project also includes building a new district warehouse and adding a fieldhouse for restrooms and concessions at the Mill Creek Middle track and field complex.

Original cost estimates are roughly $19.5 million for the combined Career & Technical Education Center and Early Childhood Center and district warehouse, and $793,000 for the fieldhouse. Cater said district officials are “optimistic” that actual costs will come in under budget.

Once the facility for the career technical and early childhood centers is complete, high school students from both Mill Valley and De Soto will be able to come twice a day and choose from a variety of programs at the center.

To guide career and technical education programming for the new center, the district has been seeking input from the business community, students and parents. While specifics on career and technical programming are still in conceptual stages, tentative programs already found to be areas of interests include:

  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Computer programming
  • Robotics
  • Digital electronics
  • Biotechnology
  • Bioscience
  • Bioengineering
  • Game design and animation
  • Emerging technologies in graphic design

The district is also working to ensure they don’t replicate programming already offered nearby, like at Johnson County Community College. The district also hopes to build partnerships with businesses to generate exposure for students to job and career opportunities.

“You want to offer programs for which students have an interest, and also, you want to offer programs where you can generate interest among students,” Cater said. “Sometimes, you may offer a program, but if students don’t really know what it is or what they can actually do for a living in terms of a career or job, they won’t want to sign up to take the courses.

“We have to do a good job of explaining the opportunities that they would have. We want to make sure that they have a pretty good understanding of what’s possible.”

The USD 232 Board of Education will determine programming at a later date.

Early childhood programming to move under one roof

Steve Deghand, director of facilities and operations at USD 232, presented the preliminary plans for the project to the Lenexa city council Tuesday.

Belmont Elementary has an early childhood education program, and one classroom of early childhood students at Starside Elementary. The addition of the new early childhood center will bring the entire program into one facility. Cater said the dedicated space central location will be “nice” and “helpful” for children and families.

Cater said the early childhood program serves children age 3 to 5 who have “identified exceptionalities” such as with speech language, physical or behavioral needs. Some children are also participating in the district’s peer model special education program.

“We’ve actually wanted to have a dedicated early childhood center going back more than 10, 15 years, but the district was not in a position to get it accomplished,” Cater said.

The project area is on 70 acres that were previously dedicated for a high school in 2005. However, Steve Deghand, director of facilities and operations, said the district determined it was not feasible to add a high school on that site.

The Lenexa city council on Tuesday unanimously approved the preliminary plans, although Councilmember Tom Nolte did express his disappointment that the site would no longer be used for a high school.

Although the city of Lenexa touches three school districts, none of them has a high school located within the city limits, a sore spot for Nolte.

The next step of the project is a competitive bidding process, after which the school board will select contractors. Cater said they hope to break ground on the project in late spring. Anticipated completion for the facility housing the career and technical center and early childhood center is August 2021.