Imagine walking into a school that has all the features of a top-notch hotel--a brightly lighted lobby, big meeting rooms and even some interior landscaping.

That's what the St. Mary's Technical Center could look like if the state Education Department approves a plan to expand the building and revamp its programs.

The St. Mary's County Board of Education approved plans for an expanded technical center last week that would adjust a curriculum designed to prepare students for high-tech jobs and to meet the needs of some of the region's growing industries--tourism and hospitality, information technology, construction, health care and graphics.

The revamped technical center would be turned into a modern, user-friendly building, said J. Bradley Clements, director of the department of facilities management. Preliminary plans include equipping the facility with features such as a video production studio and a conference center.

The state Education Department will consider the plans in October.

The technical center, which opened in Leonardtown in 1968, has evolved through the years, changing with work force demands. The current proposal mirrors changes at similar facilities across the nation. In Southern Maryland, the jobs targeted are increasingly technology-based. High-tech jobs such as engineering and research have grown as a result of activity at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the relocation of several defense contractors to the area.

"We're training people for jobs, not just training them," Clements said. Aviation technology, horticulture and telecommunications are all among the tracks students will be able to take.

The center has become more popular, with enrollment almost doubling since the early 1980s. The current facility has a capacity of 360 students, all sophomores, juniors and seniors from the county's high schools. The expanded center would have a capacity of more than 600 students.

In its early years, the center offered students training in such trades as bricklaying, cosmetology, boat repair and carpentry. Not all of the original programs survived through the years as new programs, such as child care and data processing, were added.

Kimberly Howe, a capital program manager for the facilities management office, said the center will be geared more toward giving students "real world" experience.

A tourism, resorts and hospitality center would include a student-run hotel and restaurant, which the designers of the project hope will become the site for county government and school activities.

That's not to say that starting a career right after high school is the only thing the center will prepare students to do, Howe said. The planners are collaborating with the local colleges to allow students to earn college credit for some of the courses.

"We're trying to make a seamless line between this and college," Howe said.

Students also will be able to get certified in many of the fields.

"You don't just graduate with a diploma," Howe said. "You also graduate with competence."