By Jeff Poole
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has taken its most significant step yet to convert part of the vacant Blue Bell building into a vocational education center for Orange County Schools.
Last month, the board approved a $221,030 contract for architectural and engineering services for renovations with Quinn Evans.
Orange County Procurement Coordinator, Amanda Amos, reported 17 firms had responded to a request for proposals issued in September.
The scope of work for the contracted firm is to create professional plans to develop the building into a vocational technical center with class spaces for autobody, cosmetology, trade skills, nursing, culinary arts and other programs.
Amos said a panel of school and county officials involved with the RPF and the project determined Quinn Evans was the best qualified group.
“They have experience renovating older buildings into programs such as votech for high school students,” she reported to the board.
According to Orange County Director of Public Works, Aaron Caine, the scope of the contract is for an overall evaluation of the 57,000 square-foot structure, but primarily the design of space for a career and technical program for Orange County Schools.
“The specific area for the program will be determined in the design phase, but most likely will be the back (metal building) portion of the structure,” Caine said.
The building was used as a manufacturing property from 1960 to the early 2000s. The Sedwick family donated the building and its 2.7-acre lot on Waugh Blvd. to the county in 2018.
According to the RFP, the area likely to be utilized as the vocational technical campus will include the back portion of the building, specifically the loading dock, former restrooms, former paint shop and part of the manufacturing floor.
The firm’s architectural and engineering assessment will include plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical, roofing and other mechanical building needs.
The front portion of the structure—mostly offices—is being used by the Orange County Broadband Authority. Caine said it is likely the authority will retain offices in the structure in the future, but usage of the balance of the building has yet to be determined. He said once the design phase of the project is complete, the county will have a better idea of how the balance of the property can be used. There is no timetable on renovating the balance of the building, he said.
Orange County Schools’ Project Specialist Doug Arnold said in considering the building’s current usage, the county chose a section for the schools that would not interfere with the broadband authority efforts. However, he noted the projected area expected to house the schools’ future vocational curriculum is not set in stone.
Arnold said the architectural and engineering proposal is expected to take 11 months for design and bidding, with another 10 to 12 months for construction, though those figures could change based on existing building and market conditions.
Caine said if all goes well, the county is looking at being ready for either the fall or spring semester of the 2022-2023 school year.
Orange County Schools currently house its cosmetology program over 1,000 square feet at the Taylor Education and Administration Complex, while vocational trade classes largely are housed in the basement of Orange County High School.
Arnold said carpentry, HVAC and electrical classrooms (including storage) would occupy approximately 2,300 square feet of the new space at the Blue Bell Building.
“Nursing classrooms are currently located in the north wing of the first floor at OCHS, and should occupy about 2,500 square feet of the new space, including two classrooms plus storage,” Arnold noted. “We would also like to add at least two general classrooms at 700 square feet each.”
Autobody classes currently are not included among the OCHS curriculum, but could be added at the Blue Bell building, Arnold noted.
In discussing the contract award last month, supervisors asked how the county and schools would work together to mutually shape the building’s design, given both are expected to be tenants.
County and school staff are expected to work together with the chosen consulting firm to mutually shape the building’s future design.
“We will be extensively involved in the design and construction of the space, and to some extent with the site access and building envelope improvements ahead of the new construction,” Arnold added.