Opportunities for career preparation programs at Nichols Career Center are nearly limitless, but resources and space are not at Jefferson City Public Schools' facility that serves 11 high schools around Mid-Missouri.
Nichols offers programs and industry-recognized credentials in agriculture education; automotive collision technology; automotive technology; broadcast media; building trades; computer technology; culinary arts; graphic communications; health sciences; heating, air conditioning and refrigeration; mechatronics; and welding.
The career center serves the high schools of the Blair Oaks, California, Fatima, Jamestown, Jefferson City, New Bloomfield, Russellville, South Callaway and Southern Boone school districts, plus private high schools Calvary Lutheran and Helias Catholic.
JCPS is renovating the Nichols building and Jefferson City High School next door. Renovations to Nichols' shop classes are planned to be completed over the summer. An enclosed connection between JCHS and the career center is slated for completion in October, and the steel work for that phase of the projects is visible.
Nichols Director Sharon Longan said the career center will have adequate space for its existing programs once the renovations are complete, but no new space will have been added.
Basically, the JCHS classes that have been taught inside Nichols will move back to the high school, but that does not expand the landlocked footprint of the career center — surrounded atop a hill by Thorpe Gordon Elementary School, homes, streets, JCHS and Adkins Stadium.
The Architects Alliance's Principal Architect Cary Gampher wrote last week: "There has been consideration of physical expansion for Nichols Career Center and it is achievable," from an architectural perspective.
"Depending upon the scale and complexity of the project, options (for expansion) include northward into the Service Court, westward toward Jackson Street and southward toward Union Street. Each of these has unique strengths and weaknesses. Responsive architecture should be reflective of the district goals," Gampher added.
Longan said there are state enhancement grants that could be used for renovations, but they are limited in scope and would not have been able to cover the renovations underway, for example.
"You can't get new construction (funding)," she said. For the most part, she added, "that's got to come out of district dollars."
Visions for the future
"I think precision machining would be a great program," Nichols' current Assistant Director Cody Bashore said of one example of a program that he would be interested in adding, but such a program would take a lot of space and money.
Bashore will become director of Nichols after Longan retires in June.
Asked whether there's currently room for precision machining, Longan said: "We would have no space for that."
Precision machining essentially refers to using various tools to get a piece of equipment to fit just right and meet certain specifications for a larger system that the piece is part of — engine parts, for example.
At least a couple of Jefferson City businesses offer precision machining services, and State Technical College of Missouri and State Fair Community College both offer programs in precision machining.
Bashore and Longan agreed having a greenhouse for Nichols' agriculture program is another physical need for the facility.
Longan said space for new Nichols facilities eventually could be available at the site of Capital City High School — itself under construction and planned to be open for students in August and fully completed in December — but she cannot imagine a complete duplication of Nichols somewhere else, such as having a Nichols East and West.
In terms of other possible programs that could be added at Nichols, Bashore mentioned an early childhood education program, and Longan said there would be natural partnerships readily available with Southwest Early Childhood Center and the Special Learning Center.
Bashore also said a criminal justice program would be a good fit for the area, given the Missouri Highway Patrol's headquarters is in Jefferson City.
Longan said previously that "health care is always a need" and always on her list for possible expansion — perhaps by making Nichols' one-year health sciences program a two-year program or by adding an emergency medical technician certification to the program.
Bashore said an additional year of the health sciences program could open up possibilities for adding certifications students could obtain such as in phlebotomy — drawing blood and preparing blood samples for testing — intravenous therapy, and as an electrocardiogram specialist. An electrocardiogram, or EKG, tests for signs of heart disease.
"One instructor cannot do the CNA (program) and that," though, Bashore said of the need for more staff that expanding health sciences beyond offering a Certified Nursing Assistant certification would create.
Beyond the physical constraints, the availability of staff is another limit to the extent Nichols can grow, Longan said. The career center would not want to have one teacher instructing a welding class of 30 students or have 20-30 students on one building trades work site, she said. Some class size limits are set by law.
"Nichols (has) a very veteran staff," Longan said, and retirements may provide an opportunity for looking at new programs and bringing in staff who could teach them.
Longan said high school industrial arts elective classes — Capital City High School will have a wood and welding shop, as well as family and consumer sciences classrooms — are not Career and Technical Education-certified.
"Those aren't technically Nichols programs," Bashore said, but he and Longan said such electives can serve as feeder classes to get students interested in Nichols' offerings.
There's also been some district-level discussion about developing hybrid-CTE courses for students who are not ready for a competitive program but could still be served by courses that get them on the pathway and provide some skills, Longan said.
She said hybrid-CTE courses could serve freshmen, sophomores, students with special needs, students from other districts that don't have the space for such programs, and others.
"The possibilities are endless," Bashore said of program opportunities that could be expanded or added at Nichols.
He and Longan emphasized, though, that expansions and additions are based upon the needs of students and the community.
For example, the recent re-authorization of federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act funding has required that career centers such as Nichols complete a local needs assessment, Bashore said — and that assessment includes talking with community partners, seeing where students could be employed and what skills students would need to be employed.
"I think that'll be one of the biggest focus areas," Bashore said.
The Perkins reauthorization goes into effect July 1, so the needs assessment "will be a process that will need to be put in place. We have not developed that assessment to date," Longan said. "However, we have done needs assessments in prior years when we developed new programming, so that may be a starting point for what this will look like."