A 29,000-square-foot addition is planned at West Des Moines’ Valley Southwoods School. The addition will house career and technical education programming, including culinary arts. The $24 million project is expected to be completed by August 2023. Architectural rendering by Shive Hattery Architects and Engineers

A $24 million addition to accommodate expanded offerings in career and technical education is planned at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines.

Construction of the 29,000-square-foot addition is expected to begin in June 2022 and be completed by August 2023. The school is located at 625 S. 35th St.

“When our ninth grade students are in this facility, they’ll be able to see a metals lab and a construction lab and a robotics field,” said Shane Scott, West Des Moines school district’s secondary director of curriculum. “We’re really hoping we can continue to shift that paradigm of what your future holds isn’t what university you are attending. … We’ve got to give up the idea that success means going to college.”

The facility will include welding bays and auto lifts, Scott said. Outside will be a construction yard where students can build walls for houses and complete other projects.

Career and technical education combines the instruction of academic and technical skills with knowledge and hands-on training. In years past, vocational education combined hands-on training in areas such as automotive repair and construction. Career and technical education is much broader and includes such fields as health sciences, engineering, marketing and communication, agriculture, computer science, and culinary arts.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that high school students who focused on taking career and technical education courses were more likely to graduate from high school (94%) than those who weren’t enrolled in the courses (86%).

In addition, students who were enrolled in career and technical courses in high school had higher median annual earnings eight years after graduating than those who did not focus on the courses, the data shows.

“We want kids to see that [career and technical education] is a pathway, that this is an option for all kids, and we want them to see it as early as ninth grade,” Scott said.

The West Des Moines district is experiencing an increase in requests from students to enroll in career and technical education courses, data provided by the district shows. For instance, this school year there were 1,806 requests for business-related courses, 86% more than the 970 requests received in 2018-19. Requests have also increased for courses in family consumer sciences (up 52%) and engineering tech (up nearly 96%).

This school year, enrollment in West Des Moines’ career and technical education courses totals 3,530, up 23% from 2018-19 when enrollment totaled 2,867, district data shows.

Scott said district officials hope that when students see the new Valley Southwoods facility, interest in career and technical education courses will continue to increase.

The new facility isn’t just for ninth grade students, Scott said. Newer and more technically advanced equipment will be located at the freshman school, allowing some advanced courses to be offered there, he said.

While construction of the addition is expected to be completed by August 2023, issues with obtaining construction materials and equipment for the classrooms may mean courses won’t be offered in the new facility until January 2024, Scott said.