Mansfield News

Ben Barber gets growth spurt

Ben Barber Principal Catherine Hudgins looks over the new bakery prep kitchen.
Ben Barber Principal Catherine Hudgins looks over the new bakery prep kitchen.

Ben Barber Career Tech Academy is busting at the seams, and some of those seams are starting to pop.

The 11-year-old building was constructed to house 1,600 students, but currently handles about 3,200 a day and up to 9,000 per year.

“I have teachers teaching classes in teachers’ lounges,” said Principal Catherine Hudgins.

This fall, Hudgins and her staff will have 38,500 more square feet of space to work with, including a pharmacy, hospital, video lab, bakery, bistro, machine shop and 14 more classrooms. And there’s another 27,000 square feet of unfinished space for when that fills up. The expansion project is being paid for with funds remaining from the 2006 and 2011 bonds, said Jeff Brogden, associate superintendent for facilities and bond programs. The project will be completed by August, he said.

“We do a really good job advertising what our programs are and the interest has grown,” Hudgins said. “All it takes is for a kid to come here one time and they want to stay. For some kids, sitting in a classroom is not their forte. You put them in a machine shop or a kitchen and they’re not sitting, they’re doing.”

The $10.5 million expansion will be the first for the career academy building since it opened in 2005 at 1120 W. Debbie Lane. The project will add 27,000 square feet at the west end of the building. The downstairs addition eight classrooms, including a video production lab with an infinity wall that’s “kind of like a green screen with no edges,” Hudgins said, plus four sound booths and a control room.

“Upstairs will be a pharmacy designed like a customer experience with medicine dispensing machine and a live hospital with mannequins that react to the medications,” Hudgins said, although she confirmed no actual medications will be on site.

There will also be six more classrooms upstairs, she said. Which classes will be in those rooms will be determined after she sees what students are signing up for and where the need is, Hudgins said.

On the back of the building, there will be another 11,500 square feet that includes a new Savvy’s Bistro that will be open to the public, a bakery and pastry kitchen, an outdoor patio and walk-in refrigerator. The former Savvy’s Bistro is being converted into a new prep kitchen where Savvy’s customers can watch their food being prepared.

Right next door to the bistro, new welding and machine shops are being constructed.

“This will give lots more kids more ability to do more certifications,” said Alex Higgs, who teaches welding. “This will double the space. We’re a little crowded right now. We have two classes sharing a space now.”

The new Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) shop will be one of the first in a school in this area, Hudgins said.

“We have 15 manufacturing companies in Mansfield that can’t find CNC operators,” she said. “We have run the program for two years and every kid that has successfully completed the program has gotten at least one job offer. They can make $30,000 to $40,000 right out of high school with no college. That’s not bad at all.”

Several of his students are already working for manufacturing companies while still in high school, Higgs said.

On the east end of the building, another 27,000-square-foot addition will be left unfinished inside until the space is needed, Brogden said.

Ben Barber’s agriculture barn is also getting a remodel with added kennels, grooming area and an enclosed porch.