Orange Technical College is celebrating a new facility in the city of Ocoee.
The OTC division of Orange County Public Schools broke ground for the new OTC – West Campus on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The 115,604-square-foot facility will be the home of students focusing on career training programs. The programs include building construction technology, HVAC, electricity and cosmetology.
The campus also will help students with learning English, becoming an apprentice, earning a GED or expanding industry-based skills.
The new campus is located at 2010 Ocoee-Apopka Road and is set to open fall 2024.
The groundbreaking event kicked off with an introduction from Scott Howat, OCPS chief communications officer.
Howat thanked elected officials in attendance, including Melissa Byrd, OCPS School Board member from District 7; Doug Bankson, Florida House of Representatives member; Ocoee commissioners Rosemary Wilsen and Richard Firstner; and Apopka Commissioner Alexander Smith.
He also thanked OCPS representatives, business partners, students and staff who attended.
“As part of Orange Technical College’s comprehensive rebuilding and renovation plan and thanks to the investment from Orange County Public Schools and our local taxpayers, Orange County Technical College … will be undergoing a significant transformation,” Howat said. “The goal of this transformation is to further align our career and adult training programs with industry needs, enhanced collaboration across our college and modernization of our learning environment for our students.”
Howat said following a new institutional model for OTC, with each campus focused on a specialty, the new campus will feature building construction technology training programs like electricity, welding and various apprenticeship programs, all leading to high-skill and high-wage careers.
“The school will also house brand-new human services training facilities that will expand on popular regional training programs like cosmetology,” he said. “It will include flexible space that will allow us to create short-term programs based on industry needs.”
Byrd spoke about how the new campus will impact the local area.
“By building this campus from scratch, we are going to be able to provide a custom-designed, industry-based environment that will give our students an even more seamless transition into the workplace,” she said.
“Our high school students already see the value in career and technical education with nearly 10,000 industry certifications earned last school year alone,” Byrd said. “Hundreds of high school students complete OTC dual-enrollment programs every year, and that momentum should only grow as we build on our efforts to lead every student to their own successful futures.”
Byrd then introduced Marcos Romero, a civil engineer from Venezuela, who is a graduate building construction technology student of OTC. He spoke about his positive experiences with the school’s teachers and students.
“The staff at Orange Technical College was always kind, friendly and professional with me and the other students, even when they didn’t understand my English, they would always try to find a way to help me,” he said. “They (teachers) worked very hard to prepare the students for the real world. They make that work look easy, but it’s not easy. I completed all my goals because I was there with them.”
OCPS’ first meeting regarding the OTC-West campus project was held in August 2019.
The West Campus will be leaving Story Road, the Winter Garden location, where it has been since 1974. It originally opened as Westside Technical Vocation Center and is making its new home in the city of Ocoee across from Ocoee High School.
David Ocasio, assistant director of media relations at OCPS, said there was an opportunity for OCPS to modernize its current West Campus in Winter Garden.
“This property’s proximity and close-range to Ocoee High School is practical,” he explained. “With this in mind, the continuity of operations would make for an easy transition.”
Dr. Michael Armbruster, OCPS deputy superintendent, discussed the benefits of moving the campus from Winter Garden to the city of Ocoee at the groundbreaking.
Armbruster said he believes there’s more than one way to a great career.
“I’m a Winter Garden boy, and it was hard for me to say we’re going to move Westside from Winter Garden to somewhere else, but honestly it was the best spot, the best plan and the best place to put it,” he said. “It gives access to people from three of our local communities.
“This is a huge thing for our community, it’s a huge thing for not only our past students but our future students,” Armbruster said. “There are a lot of staff members here today who have put blood, sweat and tears into planning and trying to develop this so it will best serve our students, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s an exciting day for me to stand here knowing that what was once a dream is becoming a reality.”
Ocasio said the future of the current OTC-West Campus in Winter Garden has not yet been determined. He said there are a few options being considered, which could include a property exchange with the city.
Last year, residents put up a passionate fight when OCPS considered putting a bus depot in the campus’ place last year.
The community learned of the technical center’s move when former Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer shared the information with residents in June 2020.
The Westside campus was once the facility for Drew High, a school for the area’s black students. It opened in 1956 as Charles R. Drew Junior High School and became a high school when more grades were added. Drew High became accredited in 1959 and held its last graduation exercises in 1969.
Representatives from OCPS hosted a community meeting Feb. 16, 2022, at OTC-West Campus to share their proposal to locate the bus compound on the property. Residents who spoke, as well as Winter Garden officials, shared their opposition to the proposed project, which would have included a bus compound with hundreds of buses, a 10-bay repair facility and a fuel island on the 18.8-acre site on East Story Road.
Byrd said OCPS had two other locations it could consider.