By Debbie Adams
The Roanoke County School Board has purchased land adjacent to Peters Creek Road between Airport Road and Burlington Elementary School to serve as the location for the new Roanoke County Public Schools Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center. This center will eventually replace the existing antiquated facility in Salem–the Burton Center for Arts and Technology, known as BCAT.
BCAT was built in 1962 and offers many highly acclaimed, award-winning CTE programs for students enrolled in the five county high schools but in an antiquated setting in a floodplain.
The announcement of the land purchase came at the end of a joint Roanoke County Board of Supervisors and School Board meeting on July 12 at the County Administration Building.
Current plans are to build a 238,000 sq. ft. facility on the 28.7-acre site. Four parcels of land are currently under contract (23.37 acres), with negotiations underway on one more (5.33 acres). The cost for the purchase of four of the five plots is $3.4 million. The 5th plot is still pending. Money for the purchase comes from the $4.3 million in funding the county schools recently received from the state for construction purposes.
The site fronts for approximately 1,000 feet on Peters Creek Road and is easily accessible from I-81 and I-581. It is much more centrally located in the county than the current BCAT site in Salem.
According to a press release from Roanoke County Schools, this particular site was selected based on the recommendation of the Roanoke County CTE Citizen’s Advisory Committee. This committee was jointly appointed by both boards about a year ago and charged with identifying potential sites, evaluating the project’s scope, and exploring funding options.
The committee has worked diligently to identify the future needs of a new Roanoke County CTE center and to locate sites for the center. They made a report on their findings at the joint meeting.
Mike Altizer, who has served on both the Board of Supervisors and School Board in past years representing the Vinton Magisterial District, chairs the committee. Craig Balzer is the Vice Chair. Other committee members include Lynn Carroll, Jean Hopstetter, Max Beyer, Gene Rose, Troy Henderson, Steve Spangler, Wayne Bower, and Todd Foutz.
As part of the process, the committee has toured two other CTE centers in the state—the Massanutten Tech Center in Harrisonburg and the Academies of Loudon in Leesburg—to see how other centers operate and what facilities are needed to provide state-of-the-art, leading-edge learning opportunities for students.
They also met with local businesses, including representatives from the construction industries and Carilion, to determine their needs in workforce development and the extent of their willingness to partner with the county school system to meet those needs.
Altizer noted that the first step by the committee in building a new center was to evaluate the existing BCAT center. The current set of buildings that make up the center contains 69,228 sq. ft. of program space, plus approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of circulation/mechanical/common area.
BCAT serves about 900 students; 300 more who applied could not be accepted into the program, mainly due to lack of space. Students attend the center to learn marketable skills for post-graduation employment and further education in a host of fields. Students in many of the programs complete their studies with invaluable industry certifications.
BCAT is home to a Governor’s STEM Academy and programs including the Center for Engineering, motorsports and welding, Center for Mass Communication, culinary arts, building trades, mechatronics/robotics, health sciences, cybersecurity, and the Center for Visual Arts. Many of the programs have consistently won state and national awards, such as motorsports and welding, on an annual basis.
Board of Supervisors Chair Paul Mahoney opened the joint meeting and then turned it over to Altizer, who began the committee’s “Space Needs Program” report to the boards by saying, “It’s an exciting night. We are on the cusp of something spectacular with a huge impact in the years to come.”
Altizer and Balzer described the two CTE sites the committee had visited. The campus-style Massanutten Tech Center in Harrisonburg occupies 103,535 sq. ft. on 13.85 acres. Their program is highly respected but faces the challenge of being landlocked with no room to expand to meet the growing demands of the schools, community, and businesses.
Altizer emphasized that the success of the Massanutten program is due to their thriving relationship with their business community. He strongly suggested that the boards create a permanent staff position to liaison with the Roanoke Valley business community in a constant relationship-building role with the CTE program. The Massanutten center is an integral part of the region it serves and includes classes for adults in addition to those for secondary school students.
The Academies of Loudon CTE center is a single building, state-of-the-art facility in Leesburg. It occupies 315,000 square feet on a 120-acre parcel. There are three academies within the school. A main feature is the number of large collaborative areas throughout the building. One committee member described this center as a “palace”; another said it resembled a “Google headquarters.”
This center has the good fortune to be supported by several Fortune 500 companies in the Washington, D.C. area who look to the school for graduates who will enter their workforce.
Balzer said that what Roanoke County needs is something “in between” the two centers they toured that will meet the specific needs of the Roanoke Valley.
Roanoke County Schools CTE Director Jason Suhr said that with the building of a new center, the county will be able to offer increased programming and include more students. He also emphasized that it is imperative to work with local businesses and industries to develop programs that meet their training needs to keep students in the valley after graduating high school and earning a good living. He also believes a state-of-the-art program will significantly impact economic development in the area and attract new industries to the valley.
The Citizen’s Committee passed recommendations for the new CTE center, which were presented to the two boards on July 12. They include a program space of 178,000 sq. ft. plus circulation/mechanical/common areas of an additional 34,000 sq. ft. and 26,000 sq. ft. of outdoor covered storage—for a total of 238,000 sq. ft.
Two members of the committee—Gene Rose and Max Beyer—expressed their reservations about the scope and high cost of the project, which has been estimated at $80 million. Rose believes the square footage should be reduced. There was some discussion of moving visual and performing arts programs currently at BCAT back to the five high schools.
Altizer and Balzer said that the committee recognizes that the cost of the new CTE center will be high. They reiterated the need for a public/private partnership with businesses to bring the new center to fruition.
“We are grateful to the CTE Center Citizens Advisory Committee for their months of work that has led to this moment,” said School Board Chair David Linden. “The committee has carefully examined not only our current needs but also is engaging Roanoke-area businesses to re-imagine how the new center can serve as an economic development driver for the region in the future.”
Members of both boards profusely thanked the Citizen’s Committee for their hard work and dedication to their task.
The next steps in the process involve the committee’s research into incorporating solar energy in the new CTE center. School Board and County staff will continue to work on developing a plan to finance the construction—both traditional and through grants which will soon become available through the state, possibly paying 20% of the costs. Supervisor Phil North advocated “mitigating the cost by using other people’s money.”
The School Board has contracted with Balzer & Associates to complete due diligence on the site, a process estimated to take about six months.
The parcels are now zoned C-1, low-intensity commercial. Owners are listed by Roanoke County as the DillSahp Corporation, Mapsico Limited Company, Harold Trent and Cheryl Trent Tickle, and FC Land LLC.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Jason Peters, who represents Vinton, commented that the new CTE center must be built—”the community deserves it. We must consider the long-term benefits. This will pay off later.”