EAST MANATEE -- Expect the "Week of Wonder" when the doors open to students Tuesday at the new main campus of the Manatee Technical Institute.
That's what Director Mary Cantrell is dubbing this new era for the career education center, drawn from the Latin "Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders." And that's exactly what she intends to have happen throughout 2013.
Open spaces, state-of-the-art technology, clean air, healthy work space and accessible classrooms came with an investment of $44,337,345 at the new campus, 6305 53rd Ave. E., according to the final school board report.
"We can really put our focus on superior skills and hopefully we can inspire a lot more of the students," beamed baking instructor Heinz Wiechmann as he showed off the first loaf of bread from the new ovens last week. "You really see it in them when they put their passion into it. The number one ingredient is your passion and love, then everything else will work out!"
Not only will classes begin, but first-class dining opens to the public at Cafe Mirabilis, so named in honor of the 50th anniversary of the school. In addition to the cafe, which serves school days from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., a new eatery for fine dining, the Whetstone, will treat diners from 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Patrons there can order soup or salad, a main entrée and dessert ranging in price from $8.95 to $12.95. It seats about 40 patrons. Both restaurants are completely staffed and run by MTI students.
The educators, staff and administrators are all on board for the new campus, if those who showed up for Friday's soft opening and lunchtime chef's spectacular are any example.
Getting there took commitment and passion from Cantrell, Department of Construction Services of Manatee County School District Director Jane Dreger, and Doug Wagner, adult career and technical education director.
The main hall of the building bears Cantrell's name, thanks to a petition from the staff and approval from the school board, while the Doug Wagner auditorium honors the county director.
"It was a team effort," Wagner said. "This is for the community of Manatee. We want them to take advantage of the opportunity here. There are only 44 technical centers like this in Florida; that's 44 to serve the whole state, and Manatee is fortunate to have this one."
Wagner's daughter Carly, a ninth-grader at Lakewood Ranch High School, could be a candidate for the new media technology program, he said. The new facility includes animation and green screen technology.
"This is a golden opportunity for everybody who lives in the area," he added.
It was the golden-era image that led Cantrell to draw on the Year of Wonders theme when planning the opening celebration. Classes begin Tuesday, but the Grand Opening is set for 3 p.m. Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.
Among the 100 programs housed in the new facility are digital video, computer networking, electronics, drafting and carpentry, auto and marine mechanics, welding, cosmetology, facials, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing. Students range in age from high school to 50s and older, although the majority tend to be between 28 and 35, according to Cantrell.
There are now four campuses of MTI. Central High and some of the basic programs at the original west campus will continue there, while others will be expanded in the new, larger facility. Putting together the four campuses has taken a total of $66.4 million since 2003, according to Dregger and Cantrell. The fire academy cost $4.9 million, while the law academy required $12 million.
No improvements have been made to the west campus, which will now continue to house Central High School as well as an adult high school for ages 16-19 and existing technical programs for auto mechanics, culinary arts and cosmetology.
Only one challenge remains for the new main campus: It is unreachable by public transportation. A survey of the 500 students who previously attended classes at the west campus determined 75 of them don't have transportation to the location at the intersection of State Road 70 and Caruso Road, according to Cantrell.
The nearest bus stop to MTI's new main campus is the bus stop near U.S. 301 and S.R. 70. Cantrell said she has looked into the possibility of helping with transportation from that bus stop to the campus if a significant number of students require it. Also outside the reach of the bus routes is the east campus at 5520 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch, which houses the fire and law academies.
The west campus, 5603 34th St. W., Bradenton, and the north campus, 801 Ninth St. W., Palmetto, are both served by public transportation.
MTI serves more than 10,000 students in 16 buildings. Cantrell expects about 500 to return to classes Tuesday at the new center.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024.