$100M donation will fund construction of Kalamazoo career tech center

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich, (WOOD) — A new career technical education center is coming to the Kalamazoo area thanks to a $100 million gift and a donated plot of land.

The center comes by way of a partnership between Southwest Michigan First and Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency. KRESA is an intermediate school district that provides a multitude of services from screening young children for special needs to running Michigan Works offices to help adults get jobs.

KRESA says it has been working with Southwest Michigan First to bring a career technical education center to life for four years.

“Many counties have career centers. Kent has a center, Ottawa does, Muskegon, Allegan. Kalamazoo has never prioritized career technical education to the extent that we are now,” Dave Campbell, the KRESA superintendent, said.

In 2019, the two organizations requested a millage for the school. It passed overwhelmingly, with 60% voting yes. While the millage will support operational costs, it doesn’t pay to erect a building.

With the anonymous gift of $100 million, the CTE center is now in the design phase. The building is set to be on a plot of land near I-94 and Sprinkle Road near the Wings Event Center.

“Today’s incredibly generous gift represents a transformational moment in the economy of Southwest Michigan,” Carla Sones with Southwest Michigan First said in a Friday release. “Preparing young people to succeed in high-demand careers provides access to opportunity and helps them live their lives to the fullest and contribute to the innovation needed by our region’s companies to remain globally competitive. With more students gaining access to world-class CTE curriculum, our region’s workforce can continue the cycle of growth necessary for Southwest Michigan to be an attractive place for all to live, work and prosper.”

Leaders of the organizations say there are already career technical education classes and programs available in the Kalamazoo area but the new school will provide a centralized program that will cut down on barriers for students.

“What’s already offered here in Kalamazoo is a decentralized model where programs are already located in various high schools and various community places,” said Campbell. “Unfortunately when you decentralize, it creates transportation and logistical issues and can really get in the way and become barriers for kids to participate.”

Campbell says the program will mostly serve older high school students. KRESA is planning to offer programs like industrial design and auto service. It may also develop a supply chain program.

KRESA says it’s important to give kids options outside of four-year degrees because there are a substantial number of opportunities in other fields including career technical roles.

“For every one good-paying job that requires a master’s degree, there’s two that require a bachelor’s and seven that require a skills certificate. So the economy has changed and it’s more important to have education beyond high school and now the skills/associate degree level is for the masses who want to make it into the middle class,” Campbell said.

Sones says the donors do not want any credit and are excited to see the impact of their investment in education.

“This place is going to be extremely unique,” Sones said. “There’s a group that’s been touring across the country and studying, even in international communities, what world-class looks like.”

The school is set to be completed by the fall of 2024. There’s no word on how large the building will be or how many students will be able to attend each semester. Construction is expected to begin in early 2022.

—News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report

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