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BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN EXPLAINING HOW THINGS WORK — Leland Wilbert, an instructor at the Pine Ridge HVAC facility, tells visitors at an open house how various kinds of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment work.

Volusia County’s public schools are kicking off a new venture in career education, with the start of an HVAC program at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona.

HVAC stands for “heating/ventilation/air conditioning,” and the program involves a full four-year training regimen.

“They put this up in record time,” Pine Ridge Principal Paul M. Nehrig said, as he and other supporters of the program gathered July 28 for a ribbon-cutting and open house for the new facility.

Students, community leaders, industry partners, parents and VCS employees toured the new facility, met the teachers, and learned more about the new Heating/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics/Installers and Heating/Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Mechanics program that will debut this month.

The new program’s curriculum is designed to train students to build, install, repair and maintain air-handling equipment so vital for health and comfort in the Sunshine State, and supporters of the initiative say it will lessen a shortage of trained and skilled technicians in a growing industry.

“We have 160 students that are going to start this academy,” Volusia County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz told those gathered July 28 for the ribbon-cutting. “I hope we can expand this. … This is only the second HVAC academy in the state of Florida.”

Students may begin the intense training in their freshman year. Pine Ridge’s HVAC program is open to all high-school students throughout Volusia County.

The students enrolled in the HVAC program may earn certifications in varying skills. In fact, students will complete a pre-apprenticeship during the summer before their senior year.

“This is a great day for Volusia County and a great day for Deltona,” School Board Member Ruben Colón said.

Colón represents the School Board’s 5th District, which includes Deltona.

“I do appreciate the vision that started all this,” School Board Chair Linda Cuthbert said, adding it is “a collaborative effort” among the School District, private industry, labor and students.

BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN
SOON HE’LL BE USING THE GEAR — Incoming HVAC student Aiden Cook, foreground, and his father, David Cook, look over some of the equipment on display in the new HVAC facility at Pine Ridge High School during an open house in late July.

A prominent labor union, the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Heating & Air Conditioning Service Technicians Local 295 in Daytona Beach, took part in developing the curriculum for the HVAC program.

“To make this vision a reality, we needed funding,” Bree Castelli, the Volusia School District’s coordinator of career and technical education, said. “This has happened in less than a year.”

That funding came in the form of a $531,457 grant through the Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant for the program’s equipment, software, computers, and curriculum. The district built a facility to house larger training machinery, and the program also has a classroom.

The school district plans to add more vocational programs in the coming years.

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