By B.C. Manion
Wesley Chapel High is set to break ground May 21 at 8:30 a.m. on a $1.5 million structure to house the Academy of Automotive Service Technology.
Pasco County School Board members approved the facility May 1, and Principal Carin Nettles is enthused by the prospect of expanding student opportunities at the school at 30651 Wells Road.
“It will take the capabilities of our automotive academy to a new level and will give our students the ability to work in a functioning six-bay automotive shop,” Nettles said, via email. “Nothing can beat real-world, hands-on experience — and we will have that on our campus.”
The proposed 6,200-square-foot building will allow the school to use equipment the district purchased for the academy but was not able to use because of inadequate space at the high school and fire code requirements, Nettles noted.
Jason Hallman, the automotive academy teacher, estimates he has $20,000 to $30,000 worth of equipment in storage that he’ll be able to use in the new center.
Hallman – who has extensive automotive industry experience – said he’s pleased he was able to weigh in on the center’s design and make suggestions about how it’s equipped.
There are two things that are very different about this shop than what is typically found at the high school level, Hallman said.
For one thing, it will be equipped with a dynamometer – a device that allows diagnosticians to simulate what a car does under driving conditions, the teacher said. For instance, a car can be strapped to the device, and students can learn what’s causing it to shake at a high rate of speed, he said.
“Secondary schools don’t have that,” Hallman said. “We’re trying to build a world-class facility.”
The other big difference is that the center will not have an alignment rack – something that’s found in nearly every high school shop, Hallman said.
It’s an expensive piece of equipment that takes up a lot of room, and is not frequently used, Hallman said. Not only that, but it teaches a skill that employers would not expect a new hire to have, he said.
“I want to put kids out there that are employable,” Hallman said, noting he is a product of a school district in Detroit that had a very strong vocational program.
“I’ve never been without a job my entire adult life,” Hallman said.
Completion of the project is expected in mid-November, said Rob Aguis, director of the school district’s community, career and technical education department.
Nettles said the automotive technology program has been very popular. There are 140 students enrolled now, and 275 have requested courses next year.
Hallman is the program’s only teacher now, but Nettles plans to request an additional position in the 2012-2013 school year.
Aguis and Nettles both praise the area’s automotive industry for taking an active interest in the high school’s program and lending their expertise.
Dealerships with representatives on the academy’s advisory committee are Parks Ford, Wesley Chapel Toyota, Wesley Chapel Nissan, Pasco Motors Buick GMC, Precision Kia of Wesley Chapel, Hyundai of Wesley Chapel, Napa Auto Parts and Wesley Chapel Honda.
“They currently provide direction and support to keep us current with industry standards and trends in the industry, participate within the classroom, provide shadowing and internships, (and) sponsorships for promotional items,” Aguis said.
Aguis said there’s also a close collaboration between the high school, his department and the district’s construction services department, which have contributed to the program’s success.
Nettles praised the determination and dedication of Assistant Principal Shelley Carrino, along with Hallman and industry partners, for their roles in turning what was once just a thought into a facility that will benefit students.
“This building will prove to our business partners that not only is WCHS serious about our automotive academy and its impact on students and the community, but Pasco County is in full support of what our program will mean to the Wesley Chapel community and the students our school serves,” Nettles said.
At the current facility, students do oil changes, replace filters, do car detailing and replace car body parts for staff members at Wesley Chapel Elementary, Weightman Middle and Wesley Chapel High.
Once things are rolling at the new building, students will be able to complete any service that a car repair shop can do, Nettles said. Work is under way to iron out the details to clear the way for students to do repairs on cars from the general public.