At the last West County School District Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Stacy Stevens reported on a recent meeting at Mineral Area College with superintendents, state legislators, businesses, and MAC officials. They discussed possible grant money for the UniTec Career Center, which is currently located next to North County High School in Bonne Terre.
UniTec has an average enrollment of 450 to 500 students each year from eight school districts, and evening programs which serve approximately 2,200 adults.
UniTec students choose to be trained from 16 different programs like machine technology; graphic design; automotive technology; computer technology; welding; health services; radio and television; culinary arts; electronic technology; and more.
MAC Interim President Shirley Hofstetter said a new grant offered by legislators was worth $1 million dollars, as part of a work force training initiative to help address Missouri’s lagging economy, but that the project to move the UniTec would cost a lot more – about $15 million.
“It’s not a new idea,” said Hofstetter, about the transfer of UniTec. In 2008, a bond issue was raised for it, but failed.
In 2008, all of the school districts that sent students to UniTec endorsed the plan.
“I think most would tell you it’s the right idea,” Hofstetter said.
The MAC president at the time attributed the failure of the bond issue to the state of the economy, which at the time had just gone through a recession.
State Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, said he thinks the timing for the transfer of UniTec may be better now than it was a decade ago.
“I think they have a lot of local businesses that are behind the push, and there are lot of jobs waiting,” he said. “Our governor has been right on with his push for workforce development. The time is ripe because our area has grown in the last 10 years, with businesses like the Centene Corporation, and others.
UniTec could serve as a regional hub for work force development.
Some local businesses that have supported the UniTec transfer are US Tool, which has hosted some meetings to discuss it, and Lee Mechanical. Henderson mentioned Piramal could also benefit.
“[We] want to have short-term training programs,” Hofstetter said, adding so that a workforce can quickly be developed.
“We would like to offer the opportunity to expand some programs, to offer higher enrollment,” Hofstetter said.
With a new UniTec, North County could use the building for something else, and the MAC location could offer more adult training classes.
At the West County meeting, Superintendent Stevens praised UniTec.
“We want to graduate students from our vocational school that have options, whether that be to go into the local work force, or to go on to a university, or to further schooling to some kind of a job outside of the area. We want to listen to our business leaders as well, without getting too specific. You don’t want to gear it towards one company or business," he said.
Many different complexities about moving UniTec were considered at the discussion. Even the length of the drive, which can change for some schools, may adjust attendance.
“There are some real positives, but some concerns for some of our schools. It doesn’t seem like that far of a drive, and it may be the difference in them being part of the UniTec or not, I don’t want to speak for them,” he said.
The tuition for the program at UniTec may change as well.
All at the moment, though is just speculation.
“Unless there’s another revenue source, or they can come up with something else, [they may not be able to fund the whole thing],” Stevens said.
“We’re in the stage of finding out what other monies are available,” Henderson said, “and then to try to give MAC as much information as we can about them.”