Mansfield News

School district looks at Ben Barber expansion

Catherine Hudgins needs more room -- and more rooms. Ben Barber Career Tech Academy is busting at the seams and the school’s principal has gotten good at repurposing classrooms, labs and even teachers’ lounges.

“I need it like now, we’re full,” said Hudgins, Ben Barber’s principal.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Brogden plans to propose a solution at Tuesday’s school board meeting -- use funds leftover from the 2006 bond program to expand both wings of Ben Barber, adding 44,000 square feet to the school’s current 180,964 square feet. There is approximately $17 million left from the $241.5 million bond, Brogden said, and that would more than cover the cost of the expansion. He declined to name a price for the proposed expansion, saying that the school board members will have the final say about what they want to include in the project and that will determine the cost.

At the past two school board meetings, trustees have been enthusiastic about expanding Ben Barber, suggesting that both wings of the building be expanded at the same time instead of just one.

The proposed expansion would add a welding and metal fabricating lab, computer numeric control (CNC) shop, video production studio with sound booths, smart hospital for health sciences, pharmacy lab, three kitchens and a new Savvy’s Bistro, plus leave one end of the building open for future expansion. Another addition would be a 3,000-square-foot canopy on the north side of the school for an outdoor construction lab.

Hudgins is excited about the chance to have more students in her school and the chance to prepare them for careers.

“In Mansfield, there are 19 machine shops and all 19 have CNC machines they need people to operate,” Hudgins said.

Another popular area has been the culinary program, which would get baking and pastry kitchens in the addition, plus a new upscale bistro that will be open to the public.

“In expensive kitchens, they have it where you can see the chefs prepare the food,” Hudgins said. “We’re going to have that.”

The additional kitchen space would also allow the culinary program to expand its catering jobs, she said.

The proposed video production studio is modeled after college-level studios, Hudgins said, with sound booths and up-to-date technology.

Ben Barber currently uses a converted classroom to prepare students to be pharmacy techs, but the expansion will have a real pharmacy, except with fake pills, she said.

The most popular curriculum at Ben Barber has been health sciences, with 10 teachers on staff. Currently, students can study to receive their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification, work in Mansfield hospitals and use mannequins to learn special skills.

“They make two other levels of mannequins that have wi-fi,” Hudgins said. “The level 2 has blood pressure, you can give it injections and they have pulses. On the level 3, teachers can send wi-fi to the mannequins, have the kids administer medication and have the mannequins react to the medication. I know we’re going to get some of each. We have kids in hospitals all over town, but they mostly shadow the professional. This is going to give kids the real experience.”

If approved, designs for the expansion could be finished by March with construction starting in June, Brogden said. The building could be completed by September 2016, he said.

“The beauty of it is this building was designed to be expanded,” Hudgins said. “There are glass blocks on the ends.”

No parking or driveways would be eliminated or changed in the expansion, Brogden said.

The adoption of House Bill 5 by the Texas Legislature, which requires high school students to declare a field of interest with a matching curriculum, has meant more demand for specialized classes, like those offered at Ben Barber.

“We will service over 8,000 students this year,” Hudgins said. “We were able to get most of the kids in, maybe not in the class that they wanted. We’ve been very creative about our space. We have several areas designed for teachers’ lounges that are now classrooms.”