During a 2006 trip to South Carolina, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly and the late B. Michael Caudill, former Madison County school superintendent, discussed needs for the southern part of the county.

“They decided what we really needed was a vocational school,” said Tom McCay, Berea’s economic development director.

Five years later, the land designated for the school remains empty.

In January 2007, the Madison County School Board entered into an agreement with the Berea Industrial Development Authority to purchase a 50-acre tract on Menelaus Road for $642,000. Ten acres of that land was specifically set aside for the construction of a vocational school.

“It was promised to us by Mike Caudill that we would get a vocational school,” McCay said. “The new superintendent (Tommy Floyd) says it’s up to the state legislation to finance it.”

“The (Madison County) board of education was never prepared to fund the building of the facility,” Floyd said.

When the idea for the school was conceived, “... there were state funds that were being considered to fund the project,” Floyd said. “But, like many other projects state-wide, the funds never actually became available. Superintendent Caudill and state legislators were in talks about a source of funding for the project, and it is my understanding that his expectation was that funds would come from an outside source — most likely through the state legislature.”

“In the House of Representatives, it has been approved, but when they go to the joint (House-Senate) committee, it’s never made it,” McCay said.

Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, Rita Smart, D-Richmond and state Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, support building the vocational school, according to McCay.

“It’s just a matter of getting all the other legislators to agree we need a vocational school,” he said.

Vocational school construction would cost between $12 million and $15 million, McCay estimates.

Kentucky Tech-Madison County Center, located on Madison Central High School’s campus in Richmond, offers courses in auto mechanics, business and office, drafting, machine shop, welding and health services. Students from across the county, as well as Estill County, attend vocational school classes in the building for half a day.

“If you go through the classrooms over there, the vast majority of kids attending those classes are Madison Central students,” McCay said. “For Berea Community School and Madison Southern High kids, it’s a 30-minute bus ride over there. It accounts for an hour both ways.”

When it comes to manufacturing jobs, Berea actually employs more people than Richmond, he said.

“We have quite a big array of workers,” McCay said. “I think we’re doing this end of the county an injustice by not having a vocational school (here).”

With the recent emphasis in secondary education being placed on college and career readiness, Madison County Schools are finding ways to bring vocational education into high school classrooms instead of expecting students to seek it outside their schools, Floyd said.

“For example, the district is working toward offering courses at Madison Southern and Madison Central in the spring that would allow students to complete certified nursing assistants certifications,” he said. “In other words, students will take a CNA course offered at both high schools and receive high school credit. They will then have the option of taking the certification test at the end of the semester. They will get real-world experience and possibly a certification that can help them toward a career in health care.”

Floyd recently met with the Madison County Industrial Board to talk about how the district can better prepare students for the industrial workforce in Madison County.

“We are working toward building a list of skills and certifications that could be offered in the high school setting that would benefit students in our local industrial workforce,” he said. “The possibilities are endless, and Madison County Schools is interested in nothing less than a successful Grade 13 for every student. That is why partnerships with the Madison County Industrial Board and other similar groups are critical as we move forward.”

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmodregister.com or 624-6608.

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