The former missile base near Hecker that is now Beck Area Career Center is changing its name as part of a new image for the educational facility.
In 1958, as Americans sought answers to the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack, Charles Strautz sold 228 acres of land east of Hecker to the Army. Within a year, the property was fenced and dotted with yellow-brown buildings, and was home to a battery of nuclear-capable Nike Hercules anti-aircraft missiles that would never have to defend St. Louis.
By 1968, the threat was refocused to ICBMs, and the base was closed. The land and buildings lay unused until 27 acres were acquired to house Beck Area Career Center in 1972.
Beck offered a number of primarily vocational programs to students from nine school districts in Monroe, St. Clair and Randolph counties. With the exception of a new building for nurse training and addition of two modular buildings, the education facility has continued to operate in a cluster of buildings built more than 50 years ago.
In recent years, educators and county officials sat down in a series of town hall meetings to plot a future direction for Beck. An early suggestion was to relocate from the former base to Southwestern Illinois College’s Red Bud campus.
“But the finances simply weren’t there,” Beck Director Mark Stuart told the Republic-Times last week.
Stuart, who came to Beck from his former position as Columbia High School principal, said the decision has been made to build on existing strengths and successes and “re-brand” what is taking place at the site.
The facility will be reborn yet again this summer as Career Center of Southern Illinois, Stuart said. The new logo will read: “CCSI.”
Beck has provided education opportunities to three primary student groups. Schools send some 100 students there for two-hour blocks of vocational education. They are bused there and back to their schools for other core courses.From left, auto mechanics class members Camden Hurst of Waterloo, Tyler Reeves and Nathan Schilling of Red Bud, instructor Greg Baird, and Dylan Eschmann of Red Bud, discuss engine repairs in the shop at Beck Area Career Center. (Alan Dooley photo)
Another group of about 100 students are at Beck all day, spending a two-hour block in vocational education areas and then receiving instruction in English, math, social studies and science.
A third area is devoted to adult nursing training that leads to qualification as a licensed practical nurse or certified nursing assistant. That course sequence serves high school graduates and other adults.
Part of the re-branding will be a striking change in physical appearance. Soon, professional painters will power scrub and prepare the aging, but still solid, buildings and then repaint the dingy yellow exteriors with a bright gray and deep blue trim.
“We will replace signage as well,” Stuart explained. “Signage will be larger, follow the new color scheme and tell the stories of our successes. We want to reaffirm our permanence and purpose.”
Stuart acknowledged the negative connotation to Beck for many.
“Yes, our full time students are primarily what are termed ‘at risk’ students,” he said. “They have had truancy or discipline problems and are here as a last opportunity.
“But so many turn their lives around here,” he stressed. “They know the rules: they have to study hard – we aren’t dumbing down the curriculum – and they have to do the work. In return, they can earn diplomas from the schools that sent them here.”
“This is a success story.”
Stuart told of some recent successes and highlights of course offerings at what will become CCSI this summer.
“We just sent six welding class students to state competition in Springfield. The group took first, and one young man, Joey Simmons from Chester, captured top individual honors and a cash award of $500. That group is advancing next week to Midwest-wide competition in Indianapolis,” Stuart said.
“Students from our auto mechanics class competed against 254 other students in Springfield, and one came back with an 11th place finish,” he reported.
Elsewhere on the campus, students learn auto collision repair technology, child care, certified nursing assistant/health occupations, heating and air conditioning repair and installation, and law enforcement.
“We have the only HVAC program south of Springfield,” Stuart noted.
The adult nursing program is slated both for growth, remodeling and upgrading of facilities and introducing new technology this year.
“We currently serve 45 to 50 people in each of two class groups that study here for nine months. That number will grow to about 55 in each class and the block starting in July will have electronic text books — Asus Tablets. They will also have new lab equipment and other items,” Stuart told.
He added the adult nursing program has the highest passing rate among comparable schools for LPN qualification in Illinois.
A new name, a new physical appearance for the campus and growth and modernization are all part of the effort to rebrand the center and attract students and community involvement and appreciation.
And the center’s efforts aren’t confined to their remote site.
“We send health occupations teachers to teach classes at Waterloo and Sparta high schools,” Stuart pointed out.
On a campus tour, Stuart showed the state-of-the-art equipment being used and emphasized instructional stability.
“Greg Baird has headed up our auto mechanics classes for five years,” he said. “Gary Mill- er, who also teaches at SWIC, has been our welding teacher for 23 years. And our four adult LPN instructors total more than 80 years of teaching experience.”
“We’re certified, we’re qualified and we are successful,” Stuart emphasized. “We’re going in the right direction. We are preparing students for real jobs. Not everyone needs to go to college to make a good living, although our courses also earn credits that can be used at SWIC.”
With the re-branding, the new Career Center of Southern Illinois is going to be telling that story louder and more forcefully.