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WATERLOO — What was once underutilized space at the north end of Central Middle School has been transformed into a center for hands-on technical education.

Work is nearly done on the two-story renovation of the Waterloo Career Center, complete with a new glass front entrance and a bright orange stairway to the second floor. Larson Construction of Independence is the general contractor on the project.

“They’re finishing the punch list right now,” Jeff Frost, Waterloo Community Schools’ executive director of professional technical education, said Thursday.

Construction started more than 1-1/2 years ago on the $13.34 million 80,000-square-foot expansion of the center, which first opened three years ago in a smaller portion of the first floor. Part way through the project, the Board of Education approved extending it to complete renovations of a three-classroom hallway that is down a flight of stairs from the rest of second floor.

With the new space, five more programs are being added when classes start Aug. 26. Those include culinary, hospitality, electrical construction trades, financial services and plumbing technician. The total number of career and technical education pathways offered by the district will grow to 14 with those additions.

Classes in each of the pathways earn concurrent high school and community college credit. Most of that is through Hawkeye Community College, but the new programs will earn credit through Kirkwood and Des Moines Area community colleges. Classes are available to high schoolers in the Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Hudson and Dike-New Hartford districts including parochial and home-schooled students.

A facade that includes the front entrance added 2,500-square feet to the center, but otherwise the project consisted of renovating existing space. The facade and signage materials parallel those used at the other end of the building around Central’s entrance. The most notable of those materials is the “weathering steel panels” – essentially sheets of steel allowed to rust – which is also used in the interior of the career center.

Inside the entrance is a student commons area filled with natural light, set up with small round tables and chairs along with some colorful upholstered furniture. The colors are reflected in the blue, grey, white, black, orange and gold geometric designs on the commons back wall. Those colors are repeated throughout the career center in furniture, carpeting and other decorations.

The commons area will serve as classroom space for the hospitality program and a gathering space for students who eat meals at the center. It is also expected be used for events hosted by the district and others in the community. The adjacent room is a commercial kitchen fitted with stainless steel sinks, counters, ovens and stoves that will serve as lab space for the culinary program.

Amy Miehe, the center’s career development coordinator, said students in the programs will be able to earn the nationally-recognized ProStart certification. Although East and West high schools have offered culinary courses for years – and will continue to offer beginning classes – the certification is new with expansion of the program at the career center.

Classrooms with glass walls line the hallway leading from the commons area. At the end of the hallway is an informal open classroom space with couches, high stools and a counter, and two rows of riser seating. The lecture space is just outside of the new glassed-in location for the advanced manufacturing program and will be used by those classes.

Various types of computer numerical control machines and lathes as well as a row of big red tool chests are visible in the advanced manufacturing classroom. The space is at the bottom of the stairs heading up to the second floor, which was largely completed last summer.

Advanced manufacturing’s former room will now host the new plumbing program. Sustainable construction will also move into another first-floor classroom, with the new electrical program taking its former location. A year from now, four more programs are expected to start in the facility.

Although the career center is designed for high school students, the district is striving to expose those in middle school to its programs, as well. Part of what that means for Central students is regular opportunities to be in the facility, said Frost. The middle school is expected to develop a career and technical education focus.

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