Growth & Development

New Richland 2 Tech School Breaks Ground, Seeks Business Partners

By Al Dozier
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
There was a groundbreaking for another new school last week in the ever-growing Richland District Two.

But this school will be different.

It’s called the Richland Two Institute of Innovation and will be housed in an 180,000-square-foot building on a 32-acre site in the heart of the Village at Sandhill at a cost of around $40 million.

At first glance, the Institute of Innovation looks like another tech school with career orientation courses, like the new Center for Advanced Technical Studies in Lexington/Richland District 5 built near Chapin.

But it’s more than a tech school, says Richland Two School Board Chairman Calvin “Chip” Jackson.

Jackson says it’s the next step for a district that’s already a state leader in offering magnet programs.

“We’re creating another choice for Richland Two,” he said.

The new facility will be constructed near PLEX Indoor Sports and Belk department store in the Sandhill shopping area. It will include a professional development center, student learning labs and a “partner space for businesses and educational institutions.”

It’s those educational and business partners that will set it apart.

In her remarks at the groundbreaking, Superintendent Debbie Hamm invited community and regional businesses and higher education institutions to partner with the district as it prepares students for jobs of the future.

The University of South Carolina, Columbia College, Claflin University, Clemson University and Midlands Technical College are several institutions that have already signed on to partner with Richland Two to offer coursework that could lead to dual credit and associate degrees.

The center will focus on developing career opportunities with specialists working right in the classrooms with students. The focus will be on a personalized learning environment geared toward the student’s interest and talents, whether it’s computer programming or culinary skills.

Students may be participating in the offerings as it suits their schedules, in the morning, afternoon or evening.

Another speaker at the groundbreaking, Blythewood High School ninth grader Avery Williams, said it will change the way a student thinks.

“We can learn how to think like entrepreneurs, engineers or supply chain managers,” Williams said.

Sonny White, president of Midlands Technical College, said there are now 3.5 billion people in the world who want jobs, but there are only 1.2 billion good jobs available.

“We need to make sure those students understand if they want the kind of jobs, the kind of life they want, they’ve got to see what opportunities are like and grasp opportunities to get those credentials past high school.”

Ben Green, chairman of the board of the Midlands Education & Business Alliance, foresees an educational process in which “kids will be able to figure things out before they go to college.”

In fact, district officials see students embarking on their career while at the center in a partnership that goes beyond apprenticeships.

Students who attend any of the district’s four high schools will be eligible to apply to available programs at the Institute of Innovation. The goal is to provide a collaborative learning environment where students will learn and innovate.

The Richland Two School Board began planning for the facility when it approved a design-build contract with M.B. Kahn Construction in September 2012, made possible with savings from lower construction costs of recent projects that were budgeted in the 2008 bond referendum.

The $41 million budget for the center includes funding for securing the site, as well as designing and building the facility. Part of the budget provides for renovating the district office located at 6831 Brookfield Road in the Decker Boulevard international corridor, including work already completed to provide safer traffic patterns and parking.

With a planned opening in 2016, it will be another addition to one of the state’s largest districts.

Richland Two serves about 27,000 students (including adult education and pre-kindergarten) in 39 locations throughout the district: 18 elementary schools, seven middle schools, five high schools, four magnet centers, two district-wide child development centers and two alternative schools.

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