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An Orangeburg post-secondary master barber school is expanding into a new Russell Street location.

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Barber Tech Academy is relocating to 1650 Russell St. into the former Rhoad's Cleaners building across the street from the former Piggly Wiggly.

The new 4,200-square-foot building is expected to be open Aug. 1. The U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps is helping with the renovations.

"With this expansion, we will have a facility where we can further educate more students and we can have the amenities available for services," said Dashaun West, Barber Tech Academy co-founder. West founded the business with Leonard Pelzer.

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The school has been located at 1521 Russell St. at the former U.S. Army Recruitment office since 2010, but has outgrown its facility.

The new space is more than twice the size of the existing location. The men are in the process of purchasing the current building.

The building will include a main lobby area, 24 work stations, shampoo bowls, driers, offices, a break room and two multipurpose classrooms with a capacity of 20 individuals per class.

Currently, there are above 30 students going through the program. The school has had as high as 45 students receiving training at any given time.

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"We ran out of space pretty much on 45," Barber Tech Director of Admissions Randy Stoute said. "We graduated over 35 students. They have their professional license and are working."

It takes about nine months to a year to receive a license from the State Board of Barber Examiners.

Stoute says Barber Tech has graduated individuals from as young as 17 to as old as the 50s. High school graduates, college graduates, dislocated workers, veterans, and the disabled have all successfully completed the training and received their license.

The 1,500 credit class hour program entails both classroom and hands-on opportunities where students will receive information on the hair industry to include infection control, bacteriology, shaving, hair cutting, hair textures, coloring, hair chemicals and natural styles.

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"We will teach them everything you need to know in that 1,500 hour course and prepare them for license," West said.

Christopher Green, business community liaison with Job Corps, says Barber Tech "gives our students an opportunity to learn more skills out in the community."

"It also gives our students a chance to network and to get some on the job training," he said.

"Because of the partnership we have already created with Barber Tech, I think this will be something great for our students to get off the campus and to come out into community," Green said. "They will learn from other students, network and partner with other people to learn how to work with each other."

"We are a community based business we believe in education," Pelzer said, noting Barber Tech is more than about cutting hair.

The business believes in community outreach by providing haircuts from children in the community, working with local schools, vocational rehab, local churches and CASA Family Services.

"It is very important to go out in the community while you are training and get an education," Pelzer said.

In addition to learning how to cut hair, Barber Tech also partners with the South Carolina State University's Small Business Development Center. The SBDC helps teach the students about small business and helps them put together a small business plan.

Barber Tech had its start in a community barber shop in Santee through the help of the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce through the Workforce Investment Act.

"WIA gave our community barber shop an opportunity to train," Pelzer said. "Under the laws on on-the-job training, you could only train two people in a barber shop, but if we had a school we could train 20 people."

Under the partnership, WIA would help pay for the training.

"We used those funds to start a business in the former Army recruitment building," Pelzer said. "Back then it was the heart of the revitalization center and Russell Street was doing rebuilding. We want to be a part of that."

Pelzer said the recruitment building was perfect for their mission, which is involved in recruiting and training future barbers.

The men are hoping to keep the existing building, which they rent, to serve as a place where academy graduates can continue to work toward receiving their official work permit from the state.

The men praised the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce's support and also Job Corps for partnering in growing the community through job training.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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