The building of Career and Technical Education facilities in Huntsville and St. Paul took small, but significant steps last week.

Groundbreaking events held at both schools were symbolic, of course. No real work began, but the events were important for the schools and the communities.

You could almost hear sounds of relief from school board members, administrators, teachers and others on hand. It was 13 months since voters approved a millage increase to fund the CTE buildings, a new activity center, and heat and air systems in the two main gyms in Huntsville and St. Paul. The HVAC projects are finished, and came in nearly $100,000 under budget. It’s still a long ways until the CTE buildings are finished and classes will begin. The CTE facility in St. Paul will take an estimated six months to complete, with the larger Huntsville building taking nine months.

When up and running, the CTE buildings will help educate future nurses, diesel mechanics, welders, electricians, cyber security specialists and more. 

The facility in St. Paul is scheduled to be 8,414 square feet, with the Huntsville building 20,988 square feet. C.R. Crawford Construction gave the Huntsville School Board Guaranteed Maximum Prices for the facilities. The Huntsville building has a GMP of $2,877,637 while St. Paul’s is $1,313,937. The $4,191,574 total was less than an estimate last October of $4.3 million. 

Kevin Shinn, teacher at Huntsville High and chief of the Huntsville Fire Department, knows how important CTE is for students. He’s worked with EAST [Education Accelerated by Service and Technology] students and others who take more than just traditional classes and programs. He’s seen what computer coding, robotics, emergency services and other programs can do for students. As he told me during the groundbreaking in Huntsville, “The future is CTE.”

Shinn wrote about the CTE buildings on his Facebook page.

“Yesterday, the school district symbolically broke ground for the CTE Centers in Huntsville and St Paul.

“When Phillip Baker [HHS teacher] and I started pushing for us to build a CTE facility years ago, I never fully imagined we would be this successful. Thanks to the hard work of Tammi Hasty Davis [former assistant superintendent] and others we were able to pass a millage for the first time in 30 years to allow the dream to become a reality. Once the millage passed, School Board President Danny Thomas took the lead in working with the architect and the financial folks in order to start the process of actually constructing the facilities.”

Shinn also thanked HHS Principal Roxanne Enix and Superintendent Audra Kimball for their work.

“Roxanne Enix has been incredible in her drive to develop the CTE curriculum for the facility as well as the college partnerships to benefit our students and the community. And when the process for getting the whole project up and running bogged down, our school board chose Audra Martin Kimball to step up and take over and she hit the ground running and quickly got it back on track and headed in the right direction.”

Shinn said students and the communities of Huntsville and St. Paul will benefit.

“The building of Career and Technical Education Centers in Huntsville and St. Paul will not just benefit our students but our community as a whole allowing us to produce a workforce ready for the future.

“To all of those who took a chance and voted for this project and all of the people who have been an integral part in making it happen, I thank you. I look forward to brighter days for my children and grandchildren and everyone else in our county.”

If you visit other school campuses in northwest Arkansas, it’s clear that those schools “have nice things” compared to Huntsville, from athletic facilities to CTE classrooms. The city and Madison County are poor, rural areas. The school district had one of the lowest millage rates in the states for decades.

Once the CTE buildings are completed, the two school campuses and their communities will have something new to be proud of.