VINELAND — Cumberland County has long dreamed of opening up a full-time technical school and, with Monday's announcement of state funding approval, the Cumberland County Technical Education Center cleared its biggest hurdle: funding.
The state Department of Education has promised to cover 69 percent of the project's $70 million estimated cost, said Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders Deputy Director Doug Long. The cost includes land acquisition and plans for athletic fields.
"This is going to change the face of Cumberland County," said Freeholder Director Joe Derella. "It's a tremendous step forward."
Freeholder Doug Long shares with the crowd how excited he is about project. The Freeholders of Cumberland County partnered with Cumberland County Board of Vocational Education to announce the approval, from the State Department of Education, funding the construction of a New Full-Time County Technical Education High School, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. The site for the project is adjacent to the Cumberland County College, in Millville. (Staff Photo by Cindy Hepner/South Jersey Times) Cindy Hepner/South Jersey Times
The county freeholders will make up the 31 percent difference through a bond ordinance, Long explained.
The technical center will be built next to the Cumberland County College campus, to a design by Garrison Architects of Marlton. Construction anticipated to begin this summer. The county is working on acquiring the final parcels of land next to the college, which is located in Millville — just over the border from Vineland.
"I think we need to back this," said Mayor Michael Santiago of Millville. "Anytime that we're involving our younger people in education, I think its a big jump for us. That's the only way were going to survive, to get our younger people that are coming up to be employed. This is the avenue for this."
A large group of local lawmakers attended Long's announcement at Cumberland County College, in support of the project.
"This is an excellent opportunity for Cumberland County here — something well-deserved and well-needed," said Anthony Fanucci, Vineland City Council President. "It's certainly a project worthy of the accolades it's receiving today."
The technical center will offer full-time education to high school students on its 200,000-square-foot campus and its first freshman class of 220 students will start in September 2015. The curriculum will include automotive technology, construction trades, cosmetology, culinary, health engineering, information technology and public safety. Cumberland County does already have a vo-tech school on Bridgeton Avenue, but instruction is only part-time for high school students.
"The current facility is tucked away in the woods and employers don't even know where it's at," Long said. "Even employers that are already located in Cumberland County have no idea where it's at. We need to send a message to current employers that reside here in Cumberland County and future employers that we're open for business."
The plan to situate the technical school next to Cumberland County College is especially important, according to Long, now that the college has been ranked the 29th best community college in the nation by Washington Monthly.
The college, technical school and proposed Center for Workforce and Economic Development facility will create a triangle of activitydeputy director explained, to benefit the county. "We will be the gold standard in the country," he said. Although lawmakers have shown approval for the project, there have been some concerns brought up about it.
“Moving the County Technical Education Center out of our community without any discussion with local government is ridiculous," said Rudy Danna, Deerfield Township committeeman. “This school has been a part of our community for nearly half a century. It makes little sense that they’d just go ahead and plan on leaving a big, empty building in our community without at least talking to us first.”
Freeholders Thomas Sheppard and Jim Sauro have also voiced their concerns about the project, worried that the cost of the project will cause the county tax rate to go up.
“It is true, we do support a new technical school. We were talking about the need for a new school more than 10 years ago,” Sauro said. “However, we’ve run the numbers on this project and, no matter what way you look at it, taxpayers will be on the hook for a $20 million dollar bill which is a tax increase of about one and a half percent on top of the increase the Democrats have already proposed."
According to Derella, though, the county can't afford not to invest in the project.
"Yes, it will take some sacrifice and it will take some tax dollars but, you know what, you have to spend a little bit to gain a little bit and this is going to gain us a lot."