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RPS and J. Sargeant Reynolds announce partnership to create new technical center

Ronald E. Carrington | 3/19/2020, 6 p.m.
Richmond Public Schools and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College are teaming up to create a new technical center in the ...
View of former Philip Morris tobacco plant that Richmond Public Schools and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College hope to turn into a new technical school for students to train in fields ranging from auto mechanics to construction and advanced manufacturing. Altria donated the vacant plant at 2325 Maury St. three years ago to RPS, which could not afford the potential $40 million renovation cost. Reynolds is looking to gain state support for the project. Photo by Sandra Sellars

Richmond Public Schools and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College are teaming up to create a new technical center in the former tobacco plant in South Side.

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras and Dr. Paula P. Pando, president of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, spoke to the vison and need for a new technical training center during a March 5 meeting of the Richmond School Board’s Vacant Property Committee.

Mr. Kamras said the plan for the 288,000 square-foot building at 2325 Maury St., which had been donated to the RPS Foundation in 2017 by Altria subsidiary U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, represents a special opportunity to provide RPS students with technical skills “to meet the needs of the 21st century, fill the gap in the skilled labor force and earn college credits.”

“The stars are aligning between RPS and J. Sargeant Reynolds, higher education and nonprofits, the business and philanthropic com- munities to turn this space into an innovative center,” Mr. Kamras said.

He also noted creating a technical center in “the area will help bring resurgence in this area, which doesn’t get a lot of attention or investment. This area desperately needs it.”

The building is part of a 10-acre former tobacco complex, one block off of Jefferson Davis Highway. The building has large, open ballroom-type spaces with 20-foot ceilings where, for example, an entire diesel bay can be installed, officials said, as well as smaller open spaces for classrooms and student lounges.

“We would not have to tear anything down. The building is ready and has been well maintained,” said School Board member Jonathan Young, 4th District, chair of the Vacant Property Committee.

After the committee toured part of the building, Dr. Pando said the demand is so high for skilled workers locally and nationally that many Reynolds students are poached early in their training.

“The respective industries pluck our students as soon as they learn the basic skills and place them in jobs commanding $50,000 to $60,000 salaries without earning an associate degree. Automotive technicians, now a high technology field requiring a number of certifications and significant training, are quoted at $48,000 starting salary,” Dr. Pando said.

She said the skilled trades are top priority fields for Virginia’s community college system and a focal point for Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, known as G3.

The G3 program provides wraparound financial assistance to help students at the lowest income levels with expenses, such as food, transportation, child care, as well as financial support to cover tuition, fees, and books at the state’s two-year public institutions, Dr. Pando noted.

Joining with Reynolds to create a new tech- nical center will give RPS students an added benefit as they look to the future and plan their academic and professional careers.

“This is an opportunity for RPS to provide career pathways for students to learn tangible job skills as well as participate in the district’s Early College Academy as they earn a higher education degree,” Mr. Young said after the meeting.