New details emerge on career academy

The proposed Somerset Career Academy Port St. Lucie anticipates opening its doors to 300 students in August 2020 and reaching full enrollment with 1,525 students in five years.

The vocational-technical school for grades 6-12 will operate in the black from the start and revenues are expected to exceed expenses by $546,330 after its fifth year in business.

Parents will provide transportation for a majority of the students attending the charter school in Tradition Commerce Center, but bus service will be provided to students who live more than two miles away.

Those were among the new details about the proposed vo-tech contained in the 653-page charter school application Somerset Academy Inc. submitted to the Florida Board of Education on Jan. 26.

Somerset Academy Inc., which operates two charter schools in the city, was the only institution to reply to Port St. Lucie’s solicitation for the development and operation of a charter school on a 25-acre city-owned parcel in Tradition Commerce Center.

The city wants to establish a vo-tech school that can train workers for jobs in the healthcare facilities and manufacturing operations being built in Tradition. The school would also train workers for skilled trades and construction jobs.

“It’s going to be a catalyst to cause businesses to move to Port St. Lucie,” said Councilman John Carvelli. “It will be the center piece of the commerce center.”

The school will cost about $18 million to build and non-taxable bonds will probably be used to finance construction, said Erika Rains, the principal of Somerset College Preparatory Academy in St. Lucie West. She is overseeing the development of the vo-tech.

Somerset Academy will develop the vo-tech on a 25-acre parcel off Village Parkway it agreed to lease from the city for $1 per year. Somerset Academy also agreed to pay the assessments on the land.

The vo-tech site is part of the 1,160 acres in the commerce center the city obtained from Tradition Land Co., in June 2018.

Construction on the vo-tech will be done in phases, as it was with the college prep, Rains said.

The preparations for the new school are going full blast with engineers and architects putting together construction plans while educators develop the curriculum.

The curriculum will be designed to meet the needs of Treasure Coast employers as outlined in an assessment prepared by the St. Lucie County Economic Development Council, Rains said.

That includes training workers for companies such as City Electric Supply and Oculus Surgical, which are building manufacturing and distribution facilities in the Tradition Commerce Center, Rains said.

“Part of our program is mentorship and shadowing,” Rains said. “Our students will be going into the local industries and … seeing firsthand what those opportunities look like.”

Potential career concentrations include: architecture and construction, manufacturing, health sciences, education and training, human services, hospitality and tourism and transportation, distribution and logistics.

The crucial decision in the approval process will be made by the St. Lucie County School Board, Rains said. If the School Board rejects the application, it could take an extra year to go through the appeal process with the state Board of Education.

Several School Board members have expressed doubts in the past about the need for the new vo-tech and said it may duplicate programs currently offered in several district high schools.

“At this point it absolutely all rests on the district’s willingness to recognize the need and approve the application,” Rains said. “I would hope it’s approved and we’re able to work with the district on something that is new and different and state-of-the-art.”

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