Secondary + Post-Secondary Funding = High-Tech Center

In 1998, the Virginia General Assembly authorized Tidewater Community College (TCC) to proceed with the design and construction of a $10-million classroom building. At the same time, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) had been seeking City Council funding to build a new vocational technology center — to no avail. In the meantime, the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development sought to attract an educated work force trained to staff the fledgling high-tech service industry taking root in the area.

Overcoming those repeated challenges took visionary leadership coming from Dr. Deborah DiCroce, president of Tidewater Community College, and Dr. Timothy Jenney, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools. They saw an opportunity to form a public-public partnership between their two institutions and create a $23-million center for technological training. TCC and VBCPS anticipated that this project center would help address the ongoing needs of technology training, thereby serving as a magnet for economic development and providing a catalyst for future office research space along the city’s high-technology corridor.

The resulting 137,000-sq.-ft. high-tech lab, known as the Advanced Technology Center, includes the latest technology and enjoys a much higher space use rate as a result of the collaborative use by secondary, post-secondary and business entities. But, this type of collaboration is not a simple matter.

Challenges and Solutions

Creating effective partnerships between public institutions requires a collaborative planning process in order to“break down” traditional institutional boundaries and reconcile the diverse interests of the multiple stakeholders. These three public institutions each had their own objectives but with an overarching, synergetic vision — the creation of a seamless, four-year curriculum beginning with vocational training for 11th and 12th grade students and culminating in an associates degree with emphasis on specialized software/networking certifications. The three entities also sought to make it possible to continue on to earn a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s degree on the same campus (TCC is directly adjacent to the Virginia Beach satellite campus for Old Dominion University).

Functional organization of the design abandoned traditional“turfdom” models for housing multiple institutional tenants. Rather, the building was zoned into interdisciplinary “technology clusters,” sharing common pedagogical goals, resulting in true integration of all three institutions throughout the building.

This building organization encourages resource sharing between these secondary and post-secondary partners. Consequently, in order to ensure flexibility so either institution can use them, classrooms and labs within the individual technology departments are generic in nature, with additional support space dedicated to each institution.

A centerpiece of the campus, the Advanced Technology Center is situated on an idyllic lake. It features a bus unloading area for high school students that is separated from the pedestrian-oriented campus quadrangle it faces. In response to a requirement that the building showcase public investment in technology, a two-story, top-lighted “student street,” running east-west through the building, provides numerous open views into technology laboratories that flank it, as well as incorporating “telecommuting lounges” on both levels.

Overall, the project showcases a conservation of public resources. For this reason, the Virginia’s General Assembly identified this public-public partnership as a cornerstone project and mandated that the joint technology center serve as a model for other regions in the Commonwealth.

The college and the public school system have agreed that TCC will provide staffing and maintenance of telecommunication systems within the building, resulting in significant economies of operation. The actual voice, video and data telecommunication system(s) employed were mutually selected so that, ultimately, staff from either institution can function and teach throughout the building.

Creating a single structure in lieu of two or three smaller facilities results in an economy of scale reflected in the building’s systems, including mechanical, electrical and structural systems. Site purchase and development costs are also substantially reduced.

Time and Communications

While the initial partnership between the three public institutions was established in principle, it required a consensus building process between the planning team and institutional leaders in order to recognize resource-sharing opportunities. In retrospect, the complexity of resolving unique programmatic issues within this partnership framework took more time than initially anticipated, which somewhat impacted the overall project schedule. Future Goals

Collaboration between partners is the key to success. Discussions between VBCPS and TCC are ongoing in consideration of increased resource sharing in the future. For example, opportunities include the synchronization of high school and community college schedules; cohabitation of high school and community college students in the same curricula; sharing of faculty; and use of VBCPS classroom/lab space by TCC students during late afternoon and evening hours.

Project Success

The center has been open for a year now, and attesting to its success, it serves as a model for other high-technology education/work force training centers in Virginia. Visitors marvel at the public paradigm that proves that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.