WINCHESTER — Winchester Public Schools has been awarded an approximately $500,000 state grant to put toward the creation of a Career and Technical Education (CTE) center in the former John Kerr Elementary School building on Jefferson Street.

The Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center is one of seven projects to benefit from $6.7 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) funding, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday.

Winchester Public Schools, in partnership with Lord Fairfax Community College, was selected as the Region 8 recipient for the future Innovation Center, which will cost about $13.8 million to complete.

The city school division has been developing plans to renovate the former elementary school into a professional skills academy focusing on health professions, professional skills and advanced technologies, which includes robotics, network engineering and 3-D printing. Each academy will be connected to a work-based learning program to connect students to regional businesses paying high-wage jobs in the targeted sectors.

“It’s an exciting day in Winchester,” Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum said in a school division news release about the grant.

A groundbreaking for the project is set for September.

“Our Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center ... will be a dedicated extension of John Handley High School for students to explore the world of work through three career-based academies,” the release said. “Once open, all students will experience the Innovation Center a some point in their high school career. The funds from the Go Virginia grant will help us fulfill the vision with equipment for the Advanced Technologies Academy and also fortify our apprenticeship and worked-based learning opportunities.”

Van Heukelum said the GO Virginia grant shows the commitment of the region and state to Career and Technical Education and proves the Innovation Center is leading the way.

Winchester City Council has approved a resolution to support the project by funding up to $11 million through bonds. Other funding for the project includes an additional $500,000 in previous state funds, more than $750,000 in donations and $465,000 for design work.

In September, Ed Smith, the school division’s director of operations, told the School Board the Innovation Center project had a $1,060,000 financial shortfall.

Van Heukelum said the GO Virginia grant brings some monetary relief for the project. He noted the grant is not to be used for construction costs.

— Contact Anna Merod at

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