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Photos by Ciera Hughes

RHS plans new career tech building

With a high-demand for career-tech jobs in Franklin County, Russellville High School is working to meet the needs of its community and students with a new Career Tech building.

Russellville already has a successful career tech program, with approximately 60 percent of students taking a career tech course, but Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes said he wants to make sure those students have adequate work space.

“The building doesn’t change everything, but the programming we’ve already started is really important, and the building allows us to do that more efficiently,” Grimes said. “I hope it gets more kids excited about it and to do it in a way that matches today’s workplace.”

He said the project is not far along in the planning stages, so he does not know for sure where the new building will be located or the budget for the project. Grimes did say, however, that he expects the entire project to cost around $8 million, including building the new building and renovating the existing building.

Possible locations for the new building include beside the existing building; as an addition to the front of the school; or somewhere in the school parking lot. Grimes said this will be dependent on the designs the architect submits and the cost.

“We will match (the architect’s) ideas with what we feel like is going to be best for the students and Russellville City Schools with our budget and with their proposals,” Grimes said.

Grimes said the hope is to have the building completed by August 2021. Three architectural firms are working on designs for the new building and will present their drawings to the Board of Education Aug. 1. From there, the board will decide on a design and submit the design to the state for approval. 

The RCS Board of Education will take out a new bond order to pay for the new building. Grimes said he expects to begin paying on the bond in December. The money will go in a bank account and draw interest until construction begins.

In the meantime, career tech curriculum is far from stagnant at RHS. Russellville Career Tech Director Natalie Bendall said she plans on making sure the career tech department offers programs for students to fill the need of the community.

“This really is an exciting time for career tech and an exciting time for Russellville City Schools,” Bendall said.

Grimes said he believes career tech is often neglected, and he is excited to see the state pushing more for career tech.

“If we are sending all of our students to college, we are telling them to get a degree and then get a job,” Grimes said. “Well, realistically that can’t happen because we don’t have enough jobs to support those types of fields. Here in Russellville, we need workers who can do these types of (career tech) jobs, much like in other areas of the county. 

“If everyone goes out and gets a college degree, we can’t expect that everyone comes back home because the demand is not there, and the jobs are not there.”

Grimes said the current career tech building does not have the facilities needed to train the number of workers needed to fill local positions.

“We’re not meeting the needs of our community,” Grimes added, “and therefore we’re not meeting the needs of our students because they’re going to have to go to other places to find jobs when people here are needing them to come to work.”

The career tech program offers agriscience, automotive tech, business education, cosmetology, engineering, healthcare science, family and consumer science and JROTC.

Grimes said the goal is to eventually add programs for woodworking, carpentry, HVAC and electrical.

“We are focusing on trying to get students in a field they love – that they’re going to be passionate about and that they’re going to enjoy for the rest of their lives, that they can do here – but we can’t do that without the facilities,” Grimes said.