The Virginia Technical Academy, a certified trade school in Newport News specializing in appliance repair, HVAC systems and electricity might move into this vacant city building in a couple weeks.
The city’s Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit to allow the vocational school to operate in a building located in the C4 Oyster Point Business District.
The office building, 809 Omni Blvd., has been vacant since June 2016 and is owned by the city’s Economic Development Authority, who submitted the permit application on behalf of the trade school, according to the conditional use permit application.
“We wanted to move it as quickly as we could,” said Florence Kingston, director of development, adding they wanted to get the application heard before the planning commission’s deadline.
The school is owned by David Gillespie, who served in the Coast Guard for 22 years.
He has owned several business over the past decade, including Blue Crab Appliance Parts Store, 745 D Blue Crab Road, Tru Blue Appliance Repair Service and Blue Crab Technical Academy, which was renamed to his newest venture, the Virginia Technical Academy, in 2018.
He said VTA has partnered with Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia and will offer the first approved appliance apprenticeship course in the U.S.
“I want to pass on what I can to someone new,” he said, adding he is happy to work with the city on the school.
He plans to lease the building from the EDA for more classroom space for students. He currently has two classrooms at the academy’s location ––– the city’s building would have seven.
Gillespie said he is working with the Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan on a reentry program for inmates.
The grand opening of the academy is scheduled for March 16 with classes starting on March 25.
“We’re excited about the academy,” Kingston said.
When asked why the EDA was the applicant for the conditional use permit, she said it’s because they own the building.
“We authorized a lease with him,” she added. “It’s a short-term lease–– it’s a lease of the building where he’s going to open the academy.”
The EDA board entered into a lease with Gillespie on Dec. 13, 2019, Kingston said, adding action was subject to the Planning Commission’s decision. After City Council approves the permit, “we will end up finalizing it,” she added.
Per the lease, Gillespie is allowed to work in the building to repair the building’s roof and HVAC system before classes start.
Gillespie said it was a temporary right to enter the building by the EDA.
Kingston said Gillespie is using his own money for the repairs which include fixing a leaky roof and the HVAC system, and after getting the work receipts, the EDA would credit him for the building improvements by deducting the amount from the lease.
He is expected to pay $10 per square foot or roughly $156,700 per year as part of the three-year lease, if the permit is approved, Kingston said.
She added Gillespie will be leasing 15,674 square feet out of the 16,999-square-foot building and the EDA will use the remaining space for storage.
When asked why Gillespie was having a grand opening of the school and why classes would start the day after the City Council meeting, he said it was the only time feature speakers for the event we’re available.
The event’s featured speakers include Kingston, Morgan, City Manager Cynthia Rohlf, Vice Mayor Tina Vick and Councilwoman Patricia Woodbury.
In addition, John Fleming, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Delaware District office, is a featured speaker.
But what if City Council doesn’t approve the permit? Gillespie said he has a back up plan.
“I have an option to teach elsewhere,” he said, adding he can rent a banquet room at Omni Hotel or use the previous school’s location.
The next City Council meeting is March 24.