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Roanoke City Public Schools to upgrade technical education, relocate offices to newspaper building
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Roanoke City Public Schools to upgrade technical education, relocate offices to newspaper building

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Roanoke City Public Schools announced a major project Monday to include establishment of a career and technical education center on the campus of William Fleming High School.

In addition, school officials said they plan to buy The Roanoke Times building downtown to use as a new central office. The current central administration offices will become the Booker T. Washington Center for Community Empowerment & Education, a newly released written plan says.

Setting up the three new facilities will cost an estimated $15 million, officials said.

The new technical training center responds to a concern that students would benefit from greater access to quality technical training, which goes by the acronym CTE in school circles. Right now, the city school system operates a tech ed center only at Patrick Henry High School.

This is Superintendent Verletta White’s first large initiative outside of addressing the pandemic since she was hired a year ago and is termed “Equity in Action.” Equity is a buzzword for a sustained focus on students’ diverse needs.

“We currently have a unique opportunity to increase equity in the delivery of high quality instruction, particularly in CTE, and enhance the division’s accessibility and support for the community, at large,” according to project documents.

A 12-page description, whose full title is “Equity in Action — Destination 2030,” was made public Monday. A tagline underneath reads “achieving equity in RCPS via excellence, engagement & empowerment.”

White recalled that detailed work on the plan for new facilities began after the newspaper building at 201 Campbell Ave. S.W. went on the market in January. The school division has a signed option to purchase the building, but would require approval of the Roanoke City Council to close the purchase. Berkshire Hathaway sold The Roanoke Times to Lee Enterprises in March 2020 but retained ownership of the real estate. The newspaper offices will relocate later this year, according to Lee Enterprises Regional President Samuel Worthington.

On Tuesday afternoon, the council authorized its city manager to enter into an agreement with the owner of the newspaper building to buy the building. A closing date was not immediately announced.

Key parts of the three-year project include:

Purchase of The Roanoke Times building and parking lot downtown for nearly $5.9 million. After renovation estimated to cost $4 million, it would house school system central offices and open for that purpose in mid-2022. This move is expected to reduce the system’s use of leased space. The school division is not purchasing the former press building located along Salem Avenue and across Second Street from the main newspaper offices.

Establish the Booker T. Washington Center for Community Empowerment & Education in the current central office, 40 Douglass Ave., formerly Booker T. Washington Junior High School. It would open in January 2024 and include a welcome center, community resource center, a “makerspace” for hands-on learning, computer laboratory, tutoring, adult education programs and event space for gatherings such as job fairs. Chief Operations Officer Chris Perkins said the facility will function as a community center open to all whether a student or parent or not. It is near Gainsboro Road and Orange Avenue.

Repurpose facilities at the former William Ruffner Middle School on the William Fleming campus, which is closed to students but houses non-student functions, as a tech education center. Courses there are expected to include automotive technology, carpentry, cosmetology, criminal justice, health and nursing, landscaping, sports medicine and welding. Renovations will cost $5.5 million, while staffing is expected to cost $2.8 million annually. It would open in fall 2023.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers the city of Roanoke, including schools, banking and transportation. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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