Somerset moves ahead with plans for career-tech school

Located on a little more than 25 acres, Somerset Academy Inc. is pushing forward with its plans to build a career-tech school that would serve students in grades 6 through 12, preparing them for vocational careers.

The school and the city’s Government Finance Corporation agreed to a Letter of Intent that stipulates Somerset would pay a $1-per-year lease to the city for the land, located in Southern Grove – the area south of Tradition proper that the city has labeled its jobs corridor.

“This will positively affect their application,” GFC Board member John Carvelli said, noting that the school has to provide its budget and finance plan as part of its application.

While the a $1-per-year base lease would, of course, be beneficial, Somerset would also be required to cover the costs of various assessments and special taxes on the property. Those fees would be calculated once the school receives the various approvals it needs from St. Lucie Public Schools and/or the Florida Department of Education.

Somerset Academy Inc. already operates two charter schools in St. Lucie County: Somerset College Preparatory Academy on NW California Boulevard, and Somerset Academy St. Lucie on SW Yamada Drive.

According to city records, Somerset’s chosen location will be on the east side of Village Parkway, approximately a half-mile south of Discovery Way. Currently that parcel is vacant agriculture land used for cattle grazing.

Somerset Academy Inc. has until Feb. 1 to submit its application to St. Lucie Public Schools for consideration. Whether or not the district will approve the charter’s request to open a school remains to be seen.

Charter schools are expected to provide a learning experience not already provided within the district. The district has 37 different career and tech academies consisting of 62 individual programs within existing county schools, according to Kerry Padrick, a spokeswoman from the district.

Padrick said the district’s career-tech academies serve to fill the “skills gap” as identified by the St. Lucie County Economic Development Council.

What would make Somerset’s charter different from the district, though, would be having all the career-tech disciplines under one roof and on one campus.

Once fully established, Somerset’s career-tech school would offer courses, training and certification in numerous fields including architecture and construction, manufacturing, health sciences, human services and hospitality, to name a select few.

The school expects to offer architecture and construction upon opening. Such areas of certification and training could include air-conditioning, refrigeration and heating technology, carpentry, electricity and plumbing.

The Letter of Intent also stipulates that the property can be used for additional purposes. Such uses could include joint use agreements with nonprofits for the playing fields, offering free adult education classes open to the public, and other general events hosted by the school so long as such events relate to the charter’s scope.

Somerset Academy Inc. plans to have the school ready in time for the 2020-21 school year, 2021-22 at the latest. But that could depend on school district’s decision.

To start, the school would open with 300 students in grades 6 and 7. During that time, the students will take the required courses to meet Florida education standards as well as mini-sessions in each of the trade areas to help them determine what career path they might want to pursue.

The second year will see the addition of grades 8 and 9 with an additional 425 students. By eighth grade, students will be able to select their career path. Students would be able to retain the flexibility to change paths during their time at the academy.

And, if a student were to decide that he or she no longer wants to pursue a career in the trades, the student could transfer to the Somerset College Preparatory Academy. Those attending the college prep charter, likewise, could transfer to the career academy if they were to decide college isn’t the path for them.

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