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Aiken Tech, Aiken County School District sign MOU for new career and technology center
Nikasha N Dicks
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Aiken Tech, Aiken County School District sign MOU for new career and technology center

It was a history-making morning in Aiken County on Friday, June 2, 2023, as Aiken County Public School District and Aiken Technical College leaders officially and ceremoniously signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for construction of the school system’s new career and technology center on the technical college’s campus.

Through the tireless work of the legislative delegation in the general assembly, $30 million in plutonium settlement dollars made the collaborative project possible. Many elected officials, economic and workforce development leaders, administrators and educators were present to celebrate as Aiken County Public School District and Aiken Technical College expanded their partnership and career preparation opportunities for Aiken County students.

 “Superintendent King Laurence and I are honored to represent our respective organizations on a special project to benefit the students and families of Aiken County for decades to come,” Aiken Technical College’s President Dr. Forest Mahan shared in his welcome. “We are delighted the College and School District have agreed to the MOU and Signing Ceremony to formalize the expansion of our long-standing partnership.”

Friday’s Partnership Expansion Event was held inside Aiken Technical College’s Amphitheater. After the signing, attendees stepped outside for a look at the demolition underway to clear the space that will ultimately be the site of Aiken County’s new Career and Technology Center. The new center will replace the school district’s more dated campus which was built in the 1960s. At 90-100,000 sq. ft., the new Career and Technology Center will more than double the size of the existing facility and allow more students career-preparation and certification opportunities.

A modest update to the district’s existing Career and Technology Center on Jefferson Davis Highway was being planned with dollars remaining after reconstruction of Leavelle McCampbell Middle, Aiken High, North Augusta High, Ridge Spring-Monetta’s K-12 campus, as promised with funding made possible from taxpayer support of the school district’s 2014 One Cent Sales Tax. The additional $30 million in funding from the MOX settlement will significantly enhance plans that were underway for the Career Center and allow for its new home on ATC’s campus. The new Aiken County Career & Technology Center has an estimated new price tag of $56 million.

“This is an exciting day, a day we have looked forward to for quite some time,” Senator Young shared from the podium as he recalled working tirelessly, hand in hand with the other members of the legislative delegation over the course of 20 months to secure a portion of the MOX settlement funding for public education in Aiken County.  “We are very proud and excited to be here as we continue the vision to move forward with this facility and what it will mean for the students and families of Aiken County.”

In what Senator Young, Council Chairman Gary Bunker, and others who spoke at the podium termed a “win-win” for the school district, technical college, and taxpaying citizens of Aiken County, the new career center groundbreaking is expected next year with plans to dedicate the new facility and open it to students in July 2025.

“Today’s occasion culminates a mutual agreement to invest together in Aiken County’s economic future,” District Superintendent King Laurence commented. “The creativity and collaborative spirit that has led to this moment is something which I believe is history-making and is only possible in a community like ours where good people work together for the common good and simply get-stuff-done.”

The Career and Technology Center is financially the largest single project designated by the legislature from the settlement dollars, County Council Chair Gary Bunker shared, along with his support as well as that of the Council. “The timing makes sense… As both ATC and the school district seek to revitalize themselves and to create a work force pipeline of the future, the relocation of the CTC to this campus is a wise move. With this I understand rising high school juniors and seniors utilizing the CTC and its co-location with Aiken Tech raises many opportunities for dual enrollment and dual credit. And given the wide array of offerings at both institutions, the potential paths for each student expands accordingly. From the workforce development perspective, these synergies can be very substantial. These represent real world skills, real world applications, and real world jobs. In our environment today where thousands of positions in the Aiken County economy remain unfilled, these programs have a direct and measurable economic impact.”

Relationships took center stage during the event as School Board Chairman Mr. Cameron Nuessle, Mr. Joe E. Lewis, Chairman of Aiken County’s Commission for Technical and Comprehensive Education, Superintendent Laurence and President Mahan each celebrated the partnership and the support of elected officials and the Aiken County community.

Aiken County Board of Education Chairman Cameron Nuessle offered a sincere “thank you to all who have worked to support this partnership that will result in tangible success for our students, our economy, and the community we call home.”

Joe Lewis, Chairman of the Aiken County Commission for Technical and Comprehensive Education, spoke on behalf of his fellow Commissioners. “We are honored to be a part of this historic partnership with the School District. Academic excellence and community service are shared goals of Aiken Tech and the Aiken County Public School District. We look forward to seeing the physical reminder of this goal manifested when the Career and Technology Center is added to the campus.”

Schematic designs are forthcoming for the new project and Superintendent King Laurence is grateful for the widespread support. “The support for our young people and collective commitment to their success is something that as a county we are all invested in. I’m really proud of what we’re accomplishing together and the strong economic future that our partnership means to all who call Aiken County home.”

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