BLOOMSBURG — The Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School received a $1 million boost on Wednesday for its proposed building expansion plan.
State Sen. John Gordner, R-27 of Berwick, along with state Rep. David Millard, R-109 of Millville, met at the school with board members from sending school districts to announce the surprise grant, which Gordner helped get into the state budget.
The funds, which are from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and are included in the state general fund budget, will help the school add classroom and workshop space, which would allow more students to enroll and help build up the area's workforce.
Students from six school districts in Columbia County and the Danville Area School District in Montour County send students to the school located in South Centre Township, between Bloomsburg and Berwick.
Though Danville is on board with the project, at least two other districts have reservations about the plan because of the cost.
Gordner acknowledged that as he and CMAVTS junior Rylan Fagan, of Bloomsburg, president of the school’s SkillsUSA chapter, held up the cardboard oversized check with Gordner’s name at the bottom, as five other chapter members and Millard stood by.
“Decisions haven’t been finalized,” he said, then pointing at the check, “There is some time built into this.”
SkillsUSA is a national program that provides educational programs, events and competitions that support career and technical education, according to the program's website.
Danville Area School Board President Kevin Brouse, who was at the presentation in the vo-tech school cafeteria, said at Danville's board meeting later in the evening that while the money is helpful, "I don't think it's going to persuade or break anybody's view."
He added, "It does say how much the state is behind an employable workforce."
Danville's budget includes about $7 million as the district's share of the vo-tech hybrid expansion plan, which has a projected cost of about $28.9 million, district Business Manager Bobbi Ely has said.
Danville board member Randy Keister said Wednesday night the CMAVTS board recently voted to have architectural schematic drawings done of the hybrid plan. He said that will cost $50,000 for 3D schematic drawings.
Ely said previously the district's share for the hybrid option would cost the district from about $430,000 a year for a 30-year loan to $530,000 for a 20-year loan. Ely said that debt was partially the reason the district raised taxes 2.7 percent this fiscal year.
Started with a tour
Gordner said the grant had its beginnings when Fagan invited him and Millard to visit the school "to see what's going on."
He said the school is "facing some growth issues." There are concerns about whether there is enough room for programs, especially to draw more students.
"I talked to the majority leader's office," said Gordner, who is state Senate majority whip. "My best friend in the Senate is (Majority Leader) Jake Corman."
Millard, who has represented Columbia County in the state House since 2004, is chairman of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee and serves on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, also used his influence to include money in the budget for the school, Gordner said.
The senator also said Gov. Tom Wolf signed an order setting up a workforce development command center "to try to make us the best state in the nation, as far as businesses growing."
He said the places that meet that need are schools such as CMAVTS, Penn College, Luzerne County Community College.
"The emphasis in Harrisburg has been on workforce development," Millard said. "John and I were impressed when we took a tour of the school."
Millard said the timing was just right to get the money into the new budget.