Belleville District 201’s vocational career center is starting to take shape
Just a few weeks into construction, the former Kings Point property in Belleville is nearly unrecognizable.
Metal frames block out where walls will be built to separate classrooms and student labs. What used to be a large turfed area in a fieldhouse has been reduced to rocks and grit after the underlying asphalt was torn up. Demolition started about three months ago, but now the construction team is working on the “build-back” stage.
Belleville 201 purchased the 100,000 square-foot facility at 7645 Magna Drive in Belleville for $1.25 million in June to establish the Center for Alternative and Vocational Excellence after years of collaboration with local businesses and unions to sort out how to better provide students with career training.
While the site is in the rough, early stages of construction, it’s set to be finished by Aug. 1 so that students can start attending in the fall.
“We’re on a very aggressive timeline,” Superintendent Brian Mentzer said.
To start, the facility will offer advanced programming for juniors and seniors in culinary arts, carpentry, construction, automotive technology, welding, metal fabrication and machining. What used to be the turfed part of the fieldhouse will include four working areas for welding, construction, automotives and machining.
One of the major projects in the early stages of construction is to replace the asphalt floor — which can’t support the weight of the equipment needed for machining and automotives — with a concrete floor.
On the other side of the fieldhouse, some of the tennis courts will be left intact, and a new turf area will be created for student athletes to practice on. Room for already-existing extracurricular activities are also in the basement: a fitness area with weights as well as a dance studio for team practices and theater rehearsals.
“The justification is to provide our kids with opportunities they might not be able to get otherwise, like a costly club team,” Mentzer said.
At first, those athletic spaces could let students practice and work on conditioning all year round, but Mentzer and Assistant Superintendent Dustin Bilbruck — who Mentzer said has been closely monitoring the renovations — are already looking for potential areas for expansion. For example, more general use classrooms could be added to the basement.
Future program offerings could include education and healthcare. Like the vocational offerings for the fall, the district already has existing programs within the buildings. Already, one classroom is being equipped with an observational area for education students.
Further along the line, Mentzer said the district is looking at adding a cosmetology program, as well as space for CEO, an entrepreneurial program for Belleville High School and Althoff Catholic High School students.
After years of discussion with local unions, local industries, and the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, Belleville 201 already has partnerships established. As construction goes on though, the district is still working on programming, including working out details for a partnership with Boeing, an aerospace company in St. Louis.
“For every senior, we’re looking for some sort of on the job experience. That’s going to be daunting. That’s something we’re really going to have to work hard on,” Mentzer said.
As far as the budget goes, Mentzer and Bilbruck said the district was trending under budget.
“It’s favorable right now,” Bilbruck said. “That could change any day any time, but for right now we’re right where we expected to be nine months ago.”
The $1.25 million purchase was covered by $1.5 million in grant funding. The remaining $250,000 from the grant will go toward the renovations, which are budgeted at around $6 million, Mentzer said.
Ken Hayden was general manager of Kings Point since it was built in 1995. After Belleville 201 purchased the property, they hired Hayden as the site operations manager, a position which will continue after renovations wrap up.
A “big chunk” of the savings on the project have come from Hayden’s suggestions, Bilbruck said.
“He’s done amazing helping the contractors understand how the building was built, why things are where they are, shortcuts, savings, here’s the way things have been maintained,” Mentzer said.
As a member of the community, Hayden said that the programming that will be possible because of the facility will help take students further than they’re currently able to go.
“It’s very exciting. I think it’s very exciting for our community, what this is going to turn into. It’s going to be a benefit,” he said.
Megan Valley is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.