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The new career and technical school: the 21st century career tech school brings together academics and career skills for a complete education.

When the new Romeo Engineering & Technology Center (RETC) opened in the fall of 2004 in Romeo, Michigan, John McEwan, the superintendent of Romeo Community Schools, noted, "The reactions are simply--WOW."

The wow factor may begin with the 90,288-square-foot facility that accommodates up to 720 students in grades 9-12. Fanning/Howey Associates was responsible for the planning and design of the project, which was completed in 2003 and opened to rave reviews, not only from the community but also from sources such as American School & University magazine. The publication featured the Romeo Engineering & Technology Center in its 2004 Architectural Portfolio in recognition of the school's outstanding design.

The design features include generous ceiling heights and exposed systems in the open area that houses the machining, drafting and electronics programs. The high-tech industrial influence is evident in the visible structure, HVAC elements and concrete floors. The students study business, however, in a setting that looks like an office with suspended ceilings, drywall, and office furniture and lighting that might be found in a real-world business environment.

RETC Director Gary Wilke calls the building a sort of "hybrid" and says that while unique and well designed, it is "not extravagant." He also notes, "There was a lot of community input that went into the building."

An advisory committee comprised of district administrators and faculty wrote a set of educational specifications, and the building design evolved through what Fanning/Howey Associates describes as "a detailed, interactive planning phase."

Considerations included placement of machine shops, electronics labs, and drafting and fabrication areas. The development of spaces to accommodate the new pieces of large equipment also came under consideration.

The most important consideration for a new career tech school, however, is what will be taught there, so an advisory committee that included local business representatives reviewed the curriculum. As Wilke says, the building was actually designed "from the curriculum up."

With the new facility, they were able to add two new programs--construction trades and culinary arts. Other programs include architectural and mechanical drafting, machining, electronics, computer repair and business services. There is also an emergency medical technical program through which students can take the national board exam and become certified.

Spaces to Explore Careers

Among the architectural spaces where students can explore their career options are the two-story classroom and laboratory wing that houses technical and advanced math and science programs.

Classrooms are equipped with digital projectors that are linked to VCR/DVD players and faculty computers, and the building has wireless capabilities for laptop use throughout. A centrally located media center provides space for independent study, research and Internet access.

Another wing is currently being used by one of the local elementary schools for pre-K classes. It was planned as a laboratory for early childhood education and to serve as a childcare center, so it was designed to be easily secured from the rest of the school. Wilke says they are hoping to get the program up and running within the next couple of years so that it can be used for its originally planned purpose.

RETC will continue to evolve--and, in fact, was planned in order for that to occur. Romeo is a growing area of Michigan, and RETC was built not only to accommodate the need for career and technical training but also as an overflow for Romeo High School. In the 2004-05 school year, Romeo High School sent about 300 students for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Students also came from Armada High School, and one student came from Rochester.

Wilke estimates, however, that the high school will again reach capacity in about three years, but the planning that went into RETC took that into account. The facility is designed for a future expansion that can accommodate as many as 1,500 students and has been given the flexibility necessary for additional CTE and general academic programs.

Fanning/Howey Associates describes Romeo as "a growing community with a vision for expanding upon its career and technical education programs."

Meanwhile, career tech programs and academics are complementing one another at RETC, where everyone is learning new things--and that includes the teachers.

Because core curricula such as science, math, English and social studies are included at RETC, Wilke brought some of the core subject teachers with him. "The ones I brought are pretty creative," he says.

But he finds that being at a career tech center such as RETC "has been as much of an education for the core teachers as for the students."

As he explains, "Science and math teachers don't realize how much science and math there is in career and technical education."

An Atmosphere of Success

The community seems to be embracing its new career and technical education facility, and visitors have included Michigan State Representative Brian Palmer, who is a resident of Romeo. Administrators from across the state have also visited RETC to explore possible options for their own districts.

Perhaps the most important reactions have been those of the students. Wilke notes, "The building has had a very interesting effect on the kids."

He reports that there have been very few disciplinary problems and practically no vandalism. It is more than just the color scheme, which he describes as having a sort of "calming effect" on the students, but perhaps is also the pride the students take in their new school.

"Kids usually react to their environment," says Wilke, "and this environment has had a very positive effect on them."

The school and district leaders in Romeo had a vision for the future that included an environment where academics and state-of-the-art career training could come together for their students. They then added a creative faculty and a dedicated director. By bringing it all together in a building designed to grow with the community's needs, they were able to realize their vision.

Susan Reese is a Techniques contributing editor. She can be reached at

For more information about Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc., visit For more information about Romeo Engineering & Technology Center, contact Gary Wilke at Gary.
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Title Annotation:The New, The Newly Reborn, and the Growing
Author:Reese, Susan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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