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Cash updates Sunrise Rotarians on developments at PIE Center

This article was originally published on clevelandbanner.com.

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG

Dr. Linda Cash, director of Bradley County Schools, says things are going well in the school district’s effort to turn an old factory into a place for students.

She recently spoke to the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club about Cleveland’s former American Uniform facility, which is being turned into the Partnerships in Industry and Education Center, aka the PIE Center. 

This new facility will house a “STEM Hub” for secondary-grade students, as well as spaces businesses can rent. These businesses will be expected to work with students in some form or fashion, and this is expected to change how many students learn career skills.

“We're trying to get industries, businesses and schools all on the same page,” said Cash. 

The idea of creating a space where employers and future employees can work together was inspired by a trip local educators made to a facility in Georgia. Southwire, an electrical wire, cable and cord manufacturer, has a program called “12 For Life” which gives high school students the chance to learn the trade. 

The program in Georgia operates in partnership with a local school district to allow students to gain experience as part of their studies. Cash said Bradley County Schools is in the process of starting multiple partnerships like this, identifying specific academic areas which would benefit the most.

She stressed these partnerships will be mutually beneficial. Schools wish to teach students skills they can use in their future work, and companies need skilled workers. 

“Schools and industries can’t do everything alone,” Cash said. 

The future PIE Center building encompasses about 280,000 square feet. It sits at the corner of Parker and 23rd Streets, adjacent to Ocoee Middle School. 

Cash explained some specifics of the PIE Center’s design and which areas will be occupied by students and companies. 

At the center of the complex will be a “STEM Hub” which will be the center for several high school career and technical education programs. The PIE Center will also lease space to company leaders who wish to work with students, so the students can gain work experience onsite. 

The school district also plans to partner with Cleveland State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens to provide students the chance to earn certificates and degrees at the PIE Center. 

GOAL Academy, the county’s alternative school, will also be moving into the complex. The goal, Cash said, will be for these students to address their personal challenges and “work their way into” career-related programs at the PIE Center. 

Cash said the beauty of this center is that it will equip students for their future careers, while also ensuring they stay engaged in their educations through graduation day. 

The director added Bradley County Schools is also taking a vacant manufacturing building which has been of little use to the community and turning it into something which will benefit the community. It will also help improve the area’s aesthetics. 

“That whole block will be absolutely beautiful,” said Cash. “Inside, it will be like a modern, industrial mall.” 

As planning for the PIE Center continues, school district leaders are discussing ways to involve students in the high schools’ career and technical programs. One idea being considered is to open a health clinic in the space, to give health science students an additional place to have their clinical experiences. 

Cash said the PIE Center is presenting the county school system with a really unique opportunity to add to what it can offer students. 

“We already have internships and practicums; this center provides more,” said Cash. 

The director predicted the whole state will be watching to see how the PIE Center takes shape. She referenced a meeting with state legislators last year. They reportedly liked the idea, especially since it "could be duplicated elsewhere." 

She said some people she has spoken to have been impressed by the PIE Center's business model. The rent companies pay to have space there will help pay the facility's operating costs, and it is expected to eventually become "self-sustaining." 

So far, only a couple companies have so far signed leases to be part of the space, but Cash said there has been great interest. Discussions are in the works for more companies to sign leases. 

“What we are doing has not been done in the state of Tennessee,” Cash said. “I can’t tell you about all the excitement that is around this.”