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January 6, 2020 9:45 AM, EST

Florida School District to Open CDL Driving Pad

Driver behind the wheelCorey Gray

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The Marion County (Fla.) School District’s CDL program is about to hit a new gear now that a newly constructed truck driving pad is poised to open Jan. 10 at Booster Stadium.

It has been 15 months since the School District launched the commercial driver license program in collaboration with the business and workforce community at Marion Technical College.

The program kicked off with a handful of adult students in August 2018, and MTC has held eight classes at its campus.

It took 18 months and $375,000 to finally complete the new driving pad at Booster Stadium, which also is used by several high schools as their football stadium.

The pad will provide students with a larger area to drive and park 18-wheelers.

The CDL program and driving pad is important because Marion County has become a logistics hub and there is a national shortage of truck drivers.

The local CDL program has gotten support from area business leaders, including the Ocala/Marion County Economic Partnership and R+L Carriers, a family-owned shipping company. R+L donated four trucks and trailers to the school district for the program. Capris Furniture donated a box truck.

CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion obtained three grants totaling $500,000 that has, or will, pay for CDL scholarships for about 75 students.

The CDL course costs $4,400 and is one of many new programs that have been added at Marion Technical College in recent years during the district’s move to provide more career and technical training for secondary and post-secondary students. The district also has added many other vocational programs, including logistics academies, at various area high schools.

The driving pad is the former sports track at Booster Stadium. The district received $75,000 in community business donations and the School Board approved $300,000 to get the facility up and running.

The practice pad will only be a small part of the program’s training. The students must drive an 18-wheeler for 1,000 miles (200 miles at night) on traveled highways in the region to receive their license.

Students must drive on the interstate, stop at weigh stations and present driving logs to weigh station officials.

The CDL program also has a simulator, which cost $115,000. Kevin Christian, spokesman for the school district, recently said the district will benefit from the truck driving course by being able to hire bus drivers, who must have a CDL.

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