Truck driving school may move after 26 years

Advanced Career Institute could leave Visalia Industrial Park for Goshen after 26 years at its current location

The Sun-Gazette

VISALIA – A truck driving school may be hauling its certification course out of town after finding out that it’s been in violation of city code for more than 26 years. 

At its Jan. 13 meeting, the Visalia Planning Commission discussed Advanced Career Institute’s (ACI) request for a conditional use permit to continue operating at the Visalia Industrial Park, where it has been in operation since 1993. Brandon Smith, project planner for the Visalia, said the city received a code enforcement complaint about the vocational school and when the city investigated it discovered the site never went through the proper permitting process for the site. In order to bring the site up to code, Smith said ACI will have to make major improvements in the next six months to bring the site into compliance with current building, engineering, and accessibility requirements. 

Over half of the one-acre site at 1728 N. Kelsey St. is utilized for truck maneuvering and parking yard that is currently unpaved but is proposed to be paved with asphalt as part of the request. The city is considering allowing the truck driving school to maintain operations without interruption on conditions that it pave its parking lot and skills yard area for truck maneuvering. Currently, all student truck maneuvering skills are practiced at the Tulare campus but would be allowed at the Visalia site after the yard is paved. At no time will there be maneuvering or parking of trucks and trailers on unpaved surfaces at the Kelsey property.

Smith said ACI was initially interested in moving forward with the permit to ensure they did not have any interruptions in operation but now is considering a move just outside the city to a new, more modern facility in Goshen. 

According to their website, ACI provides instruction programs for welding and driving of commercial trucks and buses. Programs are distributed between four existing campuses located between Bakersfield and Merced. ACI also operates existing welding school at 8425 W. Elowin Court, about 500 feet southeast of the project site. 

Following an orientation on Friday, students begin classes the following Monday, with class start times being staggered throughout the day. The majority of students attend a four-week, 160-hour program or an eight-week, 160-hour program. At any given time there are about two student applicants receiving a tour, 20 students receiving classroom and yard instruction, six instructors and eight administrative employees. Students do their final testing at the Commercial Testing Center in Fresno, and after successful completion return to the Kelsey campus to do final paper work.

The company has a history of employing administrative personnel while successfully providing vocational training, certification and job placement to hundreds of students, many of which continue to maintain their primary residence in Visalia.

“Allowing the applicant to authorize and continue their vocational training at their existing Visalia campus will support several land use policies contained in the City’s General Plan Land Use Element that promote capturing businesses that provide opportunities for skill training and local workforce training,” Smith wrote in his report.

The Planning Commission continued the conditional use permit discussion to its Feb. 11 meeting. 

ACI was started as a K-B Bither Trucking, a partnership between two brothers, Barry and Kevin Bither. They opened the company in 1975 and immediately landed a contract with the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail between distribution centers in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, San Bernardino and San Diego areas. K-B Bither Trucking started out as owner operators, and then quickly grew to twenty trucks and over forty drivers. 

In just a few years, the company grew to 20 trucks and but were having difficulty finding more than 40 drivers to man them, so they began training their drivers. It wasn’t long before other companies turned to K-B and asked them to train drivers for their fleets too. In 1985, the trucking company launched Advanced School of Driving in Fontana, Calif., with the Bithers adding younger brother Glenn as a partner. 

As the high desert area of Southern California became increasingly congested, Barry and his wife relocated to a less congested, cleaner, quieter community to raise their two boys in Visalia. 

ACI opened the Kelsey Street facility in October 1993 under the names Advanced Truck Driving School, Advanced Transportation, and Advanced Car Driving School. In 2004 the Bithers changed the name to Advanced Career Institute, to accommodate a new direction for the thriving company. In 2011, ACI received its accreditation from the Council on Occupational Education and the Department of Education. In 2015, ACI filed for a Zone Amendment and a Conditional Use Permit for the welding program at the proximate 8425 W. Elowin location also in Visalia. That same year, the company closed the Car Driving program and Advanced Transportation ceased operations, which previously employed approximately fifteen employees (full and part time). Once the CUP was finalized, ACI officially opened their welding program in January 2016. 

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