The school, currently located at 955 E. Story Road, Winter Garden, is moving to its new 115,604-square-foot campus, located at 2010 Ocoee-Apopka Road.
The $42.3 million project includes building and campus areas/space planned for growth and future expansion.
Scott Weidl, senior director of the OTC — West Campus, hopes the new campus will serve as a top destination for students looking to start a career in cosmetology or construction.
“We especially look forward to building and expanding our industry partnerships to develop critical workforce pipelines that will benefit businesses, jobseekers and our community at large,” he said. “The Orange Technical College — West Campus will continue to serve as West Orange County’s trusted provider of affordable and high-quality career training programs. I like to say we don’t compete with other colleges — because there is enough time, space, options and opportunity for people to pick where they want to go to school — but to have that shiny exterior, that impressive facility that matches the education that we’ve been (offering) here for decades, I think that’s going to take it over the top and give us some visibility that we haven’t had before. This is a generational jump for OTC, and the campus will serve this generation and the many to follow in the future.”
The OTC division of Orange County Public Schools broke ground for the new OTC — West in February 2023.
At the groundbreaking, Scott Howat, OCPS chief communications officer, 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 such as electricity, welding and various apprenticeship programs — all leading to high-skill and high-wage careers.
“As part of OTC’s comprehensive rebuilding and renovation plan and thanks to the investment from OCPS 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. … The school will also house brand-new human services-training facilities that will expand on popular regional training programs (such as) cosmetology. It will include flexible space that will allow us to create short-term programs based on industry needs.”
There are about 60 programs offered across the six OTC campuses.
Although Weidl said the design process has been the longest and most challenging part of the process, it also has been the most rewarding to see come to fruition.
The design started with a meeting between the teachers and the architects to come up with what the prototype for the programs would look like.
The design will help to maximize the space, with facilities constructed to aid instruction and help instructors to teach to a greater depth in their respective fields.
The campus will offer two clusters: architecture and construction, and human services.
Career pathways include welding, heating, ventilation, air conditioning/refrigeration, electrical, building construction, carpentry and plumbing, as well as human services/personal care pathways, such as cosmetology, advanced esthetics, facials and nails. OTC — West also offers many registered apprenticeships.
Weidl said the goal is to continue to meet the needs of the community with the school’s programs.
“In this line of work, you can’t will an economy to your needs; you need to meet the needs of the economy,” he said. “We need to continue to stay in tune with industry, partner with industry to help meet their needs, so we continue to stay relevant by offering programs that match those needs.”
Rosa Grant, executive leader of career and technical education for OCPS, said OTC has played a pivotal role in the West Orange community.
“We have been a beacon of educational empowerment, fostering a skilled workforce that positively influences local industries,” she said. “Through programs (such as) human services, construction and apprenticeships, we not only contribute to individual growth but also address the evolving needs of business, enhancing the overall economic landscape.”
The new campus will include five buildings— two two-story buildings and three one-story buildings — with features such as construction labs, classrooms, an event space and hybrid lab, cafe and campus store, administration offices, construction yard, and a full-service salon.
The campus also will help students with learning English, becoming an apprentice, earning a GED or expanding industry-based skills.
Melissa Byrd, OCPS School Board member from District 7, said the school will provide a custom-designed, industry-based environment that will give students an even more seamless transition into the workplace.
“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.”
The new establishment will have a capacity of 1,110 student stations with 506 parking spaces.
There will be separate access for buses and deliveries from the East Fullers Cross Road extension, with two bus stacking at drop-off.
There is bike access to the West Orange Trail with a maintained 10-foot adjacent tree buffer. The design saves existing trees on campus.
In addition, the site was designed to keep Green Globes sustainable building standards, with optimized building envelope performance, maximized daylight through design and solar energy panels.
The property is 38 acres in total, with only 17 being used currently with the new campus.
A NEW HOME
The campus will be leaving Story Road, the Winter Garden location it has called home since 1974.
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 said. “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 original groundbreaking.
Armbruster believes there is 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,” he said. “But honestly it was the best spot, the best plan and the best place to put it. 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.”
Weidl said the new site for the campus was selected, in part, because of its close proximity to the current campus, which is three miles away.
“With the exponential growth that West Orange County has experienced over the last decade, it was important that we maintain a presence in this general area,” he said. “The benefit of our new campus being located in Ocoee is our ability to continue to serve our western-most areas of Orange County, including Apopka, Ocoee and Winter Garden. … We are in an age where just about every sector of the construction industry is in need of skilled workers to keep up with demand.”
Weidl started his career as a fifth-grade teacher in 2007 at Citrus Elementary.
His mother, who also has worked for OTC for many years and still does, encouraged him to make the jump from elementary education to postsecondary education at OTC.
On his first day of teaching fifth grade, he had an interview to teach GED classes at OTC at night to make some extra money to help pay for his first house.
He immediately fell in love with the technical college.
“Here, you not only affect the students, but if they have a family you affect the whole family and their trajectory,” he said.
Weidl started to work to figure out what he had to do to make the transfer to OTC full-time during the day, and the stars aligned when he began working full-time as a GED instructor, where he served for three-and-one-half years.
He knew he wanted to get into administration, and he did so by becoming an assistant director at OTC — West for another seven years. He then served as the senior director at the OTC Main and Avalon campuses for two years.
When the OTC — West senior director position became available, Weidl stepped into the role, where he has been since July 2023.
Weidl believes all the OTC campuses have their own charm, but OTC — West always had his heart.
“Once you come to (work at) OTC, you tend not to go back to wherever you came from,” he said. “People see the same draw that I do as far as working in career and technical education. It’s just a different format of education. It’s hands-on. The format of education is very appealing to people. This campus has a certain charm just like the others, but I think what makes this campus special is the people and, luckily, we get to take our people with us.”
When it comes to career and technical education, Weidl said it’s a battle of awareness and education in the community, because the college fills other paths outside of just blue-collar jobs.
OTC has become increasingly popular, and the West campus has doubled its enrollment since the beginning of the school year.
Marcos Romero, a civil engineer from Venezuela who is a graduate building construction technology student of OTC, shared his positive experiences with the school’s teachers and students at the groundbreaking.
“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.”
Looking ahead, Grant said her overarching goal for OTC is to establish a hub for cutting-edge career and technical education that includes collaboration with business and industry.
“I envision OTC as a dynamic center that not only meets but anticipates the needs of the workforce, producing graduates who are not just job ready but industry leaders,” she said. “With the expansion of programs and the new campus, I aspire to see OTC play a pivotal role in shaping the future workforce, driving innovation and fostering community prosperity. We are not just building a new campus; we are laying the foundation for a future where OTC continues to be a catalyst for individual success and community development.”
News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.