The old Gadsden High School, located on 12th Street in northeast Alabama City, has remained in disrepair for years since the city’s three former high schools merged into Gadsden City High School in 2006.
But that’s about to change, according to Gadsden Town Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick.
The building will soon be the site of multiple developments in the years to come, Reddick told the Gadsden Messenger in late August.
The first phase of its revitalization begins with the Gadsden Readiness and Career Education Academy, or GRACE Academy, designed to provide on-the-job construction training to local students and adults.
The program will be funded by a grant from the Alabama Construction Industry Craft Training Board (CICT), Reddick said.
He credited Lana Bellew of Gadsden, a professional grants writer, with securing the funding.
“Dr. Bellew discovered this grant where we can help with workforce development,” Reddick explained. “This has been a problem in our city, community and county for many, many years, so we saw an opportunity to take advantage of it by offering training programs in commercial construction, plumbing and electrical technology – all practical simulators.”
He added that the program will be open to a wide range of participants.
“[It] is intended to serve adults as well as students,” Reddick noted. “It does not conflict with our Career Technology program as we do not offer credit for it, [nor] certification for it. We will guide these participants to a certification opportunity, but this is primarily on-the-job training.”
Local businesses will “loan” instructors to lead the trainings, and several have also agreed to hire workforce development program participants once their training is complete, the Messenger reported.
“It’s just an opportunity for our participants to learn a work-ready trade,” Reddick said, speaking to news source Gadsden. “The commitment we have from some of our local businesses [means] they can pretty much put them to work immediately.”
GRACE kept the acronym, changed its focus
The program had long been conceptualized as GRACE Academy, but it once served a very different purpose.
“Some time ago I had the idea of what I call GRACE Academy, which at the time [stood for] Gadsden Rehabilitative Alternative Center for Education, where we were primarily concerned with our students who may be struggling with mental health issues and other issues where we felt counseling was needed,” Reddick said.
The construction industry subsidy, however, proved to be a more beneficial opportunity, he explained. The grant caused the Gadsden City Schools Board to “change direction for the better”, Reddick said, especially as work will begin on GRACE Academy’s first three classrooms as early as October.
Providing social and emotional education tools is always a priority for Reddick, but he said technical training lends itself to “meeting a more ongoing need in terms of providing job skills to the community.”
The superintendent of Gadsden School admitted to the Gadsden news source that he dreamed up many uses for the old high school building in the years after it closed. Although part of the old high school building currently houses the alternative school, it is only a fraction of the available space.
“We’ve always had a passion for the old Gadsden High School,” Reddick said. “[It is a] nice facility, but very limited in its use.”
The three classrooms that are to be converted into lab space for GRACE Academy are located on the opposite side of the building from the current alternate school.
“I felt as superintendent that even though we’re still using the facility somewhat, there might be other purposes for it,” Reddick explained. “Obviously some areas are in poor condition. There are roofing needs that limit us in what we can do in certain parts of the building, but in this area we are in fairly good condition.”
Students can practice their renovation skills at school
The beauty of housing a construction industry training program in an old building is that the location itself can serve as a learning opportunity, the Messenger noted.
Reddick confirmed that indeed, GRACE Academy students will be practicing construction, plumbing and electrical skills on parts of the old high school building, even taking on the restoration of some of its classrooms. class.
He added that the program aims to train 250 participants in the first year of the program.
GRACE Academy students will train for 16 weeks, allowing for three cohorts – one each during the fall, spring, and summer semesters.
“These will be individuals who, once they’re done with their 16-week cohort, have acquired enough skills to actually go to work, so that’s what we’re most excited about,” Reddick said.
He views the GRACE Academy program as an attractive program for students and local workers preparing to enter or re-enter the workforce.
“I think in a situation where you have a training opportunity [and] there is a job waiting for you [participants]it should invite more people to consider taking advantage of it,” he said.