(TNS) — The new $15.6 million Sugar Creek Elementary School in West Limestone is slated for completion next summer, and Superintendent Tom Sisk has big plans for one of the schools it will replace.
When the 116,000-square-foot Sugar Creek Elementary opens in the fall of 2017, it will take students from Owens Elementary School and West Limestone School, which is currently a K-12 school.
Sisk said the elementary portion of West Limestone will be shuttered, but Owens Elementary School will re-open as the Alternative Center for Excellence in Education, or ACEE.
"This is a concept we have been developing for the last three years, and it will house a number of innovative programs," he said.
Among the variety of programs slated for ACEE is the system's planned STEAM Academy, which stands for Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics.
Sisk said the school system is working with the Alabama Bluegrass Association to offer bluegrass and other musical courses such as chorale music. He said a kiln will be added for pottery and other visual arts classes.
While plans are not complete, the center is slated to open in the fall of 2017, and new courses will be available to students across the county. Students will take buses from their home schools to the center throughout the day.
Other planned programs include cyberwarfare classes to be offered in partnership with local colleges, including the University of Alabama at Huntsville. That program will focus on computer technology, with a focus on cybersecurity.
"Because of the government's renewed interest in cybersecurity, there are a lot of grant dollars out there that we can apply for jointly," Sisk said.
Last year, two students at the Limestone County Career Technical Center became the first in the state to be certified to work with LabVIEW, an advanced computer programming language.
Only two other high school students in the nation and two from other countries have the certification. Just 47 engineers total statewide have it.
Sisk said the school system has 40 students training for the certification test and could become a national leader.
Other plans for Owens include what Sisk is calling a Future Farmers of America mega-site. Plans for that were incomplete, but Sisk said it could include a four-story deck with different types of farming on each level, large grow houses and classes in experimental farming techniques.
"It's part of the vision," he said. "It won't be up and running next year, but two years from now it's very possible."
That proposal won accolades from State FFA Director Jacob Davis, who said studies show too few young people are going into agriculture to meet the nation's food requirements, which are becoming more stressed by a growing population and shrinking farmland.
"The technology of this center is exactly what we need to figure out how to find more ways to feed a growing population," he said.
Chris Becker, Limestone County coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said they are prepared to help the school system with that endeavor in any way possible.
"There's nothing else like it in the state," he said.
Sisk said some career-tech programs also will be relocated to the center to alleviate crowding at the career-tech campus on Sanderfer Road. Since 2013, enrollment at the career-tech center has climbed from 525 to more than 900 as the school system added new career-tech programs.
The school system's Success Academy for nontraditional students and its virtual school, which now has 400 students, also will move their bases of operation to ACEE.
Dual-enrollment college courses taught by college instructors from Calhoun Community College will be expanded in the center, busing in students from across the county so they can get a head start on college credits.
Sisk plans to apply for cost-center status from the Alabama State Department of Education in March or April. If approved, it would provide state funding for administrators at the new center and require the state to pay the cost of busing students to and from the center.
Sisk predicted the extra course would reduce class sizes across the school system. He was not sure how many teachers would be hired at the center.
"We've been enrichment poor for a long time, because we've been doing well just to get the basics covered," he said. "The byproduct of that is classes becoming larger, because you have fewer places to send students."
©2016 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.