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Big West-MEC technical school to break ground in Surprise

October 5, 2016
Arizona Republic

A new career and technical education campus will soon break ground in Surprise, with training opportunities aimed to withstand the ebbs and flows of the evolving world of business.

Construction on the newest and largest campus of the Western Maricopa Education Center school district, commonly known as West-MEC, is scheduled to begin Oct. 6. The center's fifth campus will be located along one of Surprise's major thoroughfares.

At Dysart Road and Grand Avenue, the school’s northwest campus will cover about 19 acres in the city’s Original Town Site.

The $11.9 million campus is expected to open to students in fall 2017, with expansions dependent on the outcome of a bond on the Nov. 8 ballot. The full campus will cost about $45 million to build, if the bond is successful.

Since 2000, Surprise has grown from what once was a small town of less than 35,000 residents into a city of more than 128,000 residents.

While some Original Town Site residents have said they fear some old-time character could be lost in the waves of various "cookie-cutter" developments, Councilman Skip Hall said the new campus will be a great addition to Surprise and the entire West Valley.

Hall, who has represented the central part of Surprise for two years, said the new campus will help bridge the gap for students seeking a career and education in a specified trade.

The location along Grand Avenue will expand the city’s business opportunities, he said.

“I think it will be impetus for more development to the original site,” Hall said.

What is West-MEC?

Like many high school students, Calvin McClure starts his morning by waking up to the sounds of an early alarm clock and quick breakfast before driving to Shadow Ridge High School where he spends the first part of his day learning the basic concepts required to graduate.

But McClure, 18, spends the second half of his day at the START West-MEC campus in Glendale where he learns coding.

McClure is one of nearly 30,000 students in the West Valley in the West-MEC high school program. In their final two years of high school, students in the program spend the latter part of school days learning entry-level skills in a specific area.

West-MEC partners with 46 high schools and provides more than 20 areas of study for students, including automotive technology, coding, cosmetology, IT security, medical assisting and veterinary sciences.

McClure said he feels the average high school has many students who become jaded with unchanging concepts and general lessons that don’t always inspire a more defined path for life after graduating.

He said at West-MEC, he is surrounded by students who also have a true interest in what they are learning.

As a Surprise resident, McClure said he is excited for the new campus and hopes his younger brother will become a West-MEC student.

“You’re going to find a lot more kids will be career-driven at a younger age and they can kind of nestle into what they want to do," McClure said.

The center also offers programs for adults and students who have graduated high school. However, course lengths and objectives may differ  to get adult students on the job faster.

West-MEC Superintendent Gregory J. Donovan said the goal with each program is to get students into the work force in a quick and efficient way.

“The days of learning a skill and starting that job at 18 and working until you retire are gone, because we are evolving as a society, as a community and evolving with technology,” he said.

Why Surprise?

Since its inception in 2003, West-MEC has expanded by adding campuses in Glendale, northern Phoenix and Buckeye.

Donovan said that since the education center’s birth, the big picture was to have campuses in about “four or five different quadrants” in the greater Phoenix area and West Valley.

While the first phase of construction is scheduled to start soon, the entire process will take several years to complete and depends on the outcome of a bond proposal in the November election.

West-MEC has proposed a $141 million bond, which will be decided by voters in the legislative districts that West-MEC represents.

The area includes about 12 school districts that stretch from northern Phoenix to Buckeye, including districts such as Agua Fria Union, Dysart Unified and Saddle Mountain Unified.

Property taxes would increase to pay for the bond.

The annual tax increase for homes valued at $100,000 would be about $6 annually, while residents with $300,000 homes would pay about $18 more annually. The tax increase would be in place for 10 years, from 2017 to 2027.

If successful, the campus would be the largest with programs and multiple buildings.

Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott said she is excited for the new campus and its potential for the city.

“There’s no question that when you’re investing the many millions of dollars that will go into this campus, that those investments will have a relationship to everything in that neighborhood,” Wolcott said. “It’s going to make quite a splash.”

Wolcott said the campus will also act as a catalyst for their goals to prosper economically while preserving their city's culture

“We wanted to find a way to blend our heritage overlaying our district and our economic opportunities with education and training opportunities all along Grand Avenue as part of our gateway,” Wolcott said.

Donovan, who has worked in education for the majority of his career, said that the new campus will help provide Surprise with strengths to be a successful city.

“Education today, the workforce today, the learning today will never stop,” Donovan said. “Every occupation continues to grow and change and, to stay employable, you better change with it.”

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