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After success with 'pilot,' Albemarle plans to open second 'high school center'

After the success of its first so-called high school center, Albemarle County is moving forward with plans for a second such facility, which, much like the first iteration, will allow students to pursue their coursework outside of the traditional classroom setting.

While the county school division has publicly said the centers will help alleviate overcrowding at its schools, there is no doubt they could also provide a substitute or supplement for programs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center, soon to be the Charlottesville Area Technical Education Center after the city bought out the county’s stake in the facility.

The Albemarle County School Board discussed updates on the second high school center’s development at its most recent meeting on Thursday.

“Center I was developed as a pilot to test the center model, and it’s been successful, so that’s why we’re moving into the Center II, and one of the preliminary drivers for the center model was to alleviate capacity issues,” Lindsay Snoddy, director of building services, told The Daily Progress.

The first center opened in 2018, housing nine lab spaces and three pathways: game design and development, cybersecurity and media communications.

“Students just love learning in a more relaxed environment versus a holding cell, which is unfortunately too many of our classrooms, you know,” Jeff Prillaman, director of Center I, said.

Center I was designed to “emulate a modern work environment” for its 250 students, according to the county school division. There is no application process and students can request to participate by registering through their school counselor or selecting a pathway while course requests are open.

“So most of our kids that are graduating from here are coming out with, you know, certifications in cybersecurity or unity or even some of our students got like live music performance certification last year,” Prillaman said. “So having students leave school with certifications is a big win.”

The new center hopes to serve up to 400 students per day in its 60,000 square feet of space, according to the presentation before the school board. Project studios, a digital fabrication lab and a fitness room are planned for the new facility.

Programming for the students, though, is still being workshopped.

“We’re still finalizing it, but preliminarily we’re looking at entrepreneurship and business, potentially culinary arts, and math engineering and science,” Snoddy said.

High school students from all over the division are welcome at the center.

“The center program allows opportunities for students from all of our high schools to be a part of the center,” Snoddy said. “So transportation is provided to the center.”

Lambs Lane is being considered for Center II’s preliminary location.

“So we do feel by having it close to Albemarle High School we will help with some of the capacity conflicts that are going to be upcoming at Albemarle High School,” Snoddy said.

Prillaman hopes the center’s design considers all students’ needs for learning spaces.

“The building is going to be very, very functional for collaborative learning, for individual learning.” Prillaman said. “I don’t want them to forget that some students need quiet spaces to learn. Sometimes when the building is all open that makes it a little more difficult for a student to find a quiet space to hunker down, so that’s something that I do want to make sure they continue to implement in the design process.”

The county said it hopes to open Center II in the 2026-2027 school year. The cost of building the facility is budgeted at $36 million at present. Funding for the remaining programming and design is in the 2024 fiscal year budget, according to the school board meeting agenda.

“We’re finishing up programming now, then we’ll enter into design,” Snoddy said. “The next presentation to the board will be a schematic design presentation, showing them what we’ve come up with for Center II, and then we’ll go into construction documents and bidding the project after those pieces.”


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