Iowa Central touts plans for Jefferson
By DOUGLAS BURNS
The president of Fort Dodge-based Iowa Central Community College said a planned career academy in Jefferson will be expanded beyond its originally planned scope.
“It’s going to end up being a regional center for us,” said Dan Kinney, the leader of the college that serves nearly 5,000 students annually in a vast sweep of central Iowa.
Kinney joined other speakers and community leaders in highlighting progress and projected growth in the region during the Greene County Development Corp.’s annual dinner Sept. 19 at Wild Rose Jefferson.
Iowa Central Community College will be developing a career academy on the campus of a new Greene County High School, planned for south of the casino and west of AAI.
It’s an essential part of a $35-million schools improvement project in Greene County.
Kinney stressed that it would be more than a career academy. Officials with the college and local leaders have been meeting in recent days to iron out the mission of Iowa Central in Jefferson.
For now, though, Kinney said, the community college will offer at least six career tracks on the local campus: health care, computer science, ag technology, which Kinney said “really drives the state of Iowa,” advanced manufacturing, culinary arts and event management, and construction.
“We’re going to be able to offer a lot of classes,” he said.
Local businesses and others in the area will benefit from non-credit classes the college will offer, he said.
For his part, Greene County Superintendent Tim Christensen said school officials are weeks away from rolling out designs of the new high school — although he offered some previews at the GCDC dinner.
One main focus: secure entrances at the high school and middle school (which will be located in the renovated current high school).
“That’s a big benefit we are going to have,” Kinney said.
The new high school will feature a 700-seat auditorium and a 1,500-seat gymnasium.
Collaboration spaces will be a big part of the design for the education wing.
“Students sitting at desks, working by themselves, that’s a thing of the past,” Christensen said.
The district plans to bid the schools’ project in early 2019 with construction starting as soon as March, Christensen said.
Chris Deal, a 2003 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School and an aggressive local economic development leader in Greene County, hatched the idea for a regional career academy in Greene County.
He also worked with software company Pillar Technology on its plans to develop a location, with as many as 30 employees, in the century-old former IOOF building on East State Street next to the Sierra Community Theatre.
Established in 1996, Pillar currently has more than 300 employees and four working spaces — each one called a Forge — located in Palo Alto, Calif., Des Moines and the university towns of Columbus, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Mich.
Deal, who spoke at the GCDC dinner, said the Pillar siting is a “once-in-a-generation type of thing.”
“It was the right place, it was the right time, we were doing the right thing,” Deal said. “There is a lot that is going on in the background to bring this all together.”
Construction on Pillar is expected to start in about two months.
As a result of the Pillar publicity for Jefferson, a nonprofit technology company is eyeing the city for its own location, and a rural blogger has looked at moving to Greene County.
“It’s the Silicon Prairie,” Deal said.
Big picture, GCDC President Sid Jones and Executive Director Ken Paxton said, attracting workforce and developing housing to serve growing businesses is the vital work of development leaders in Greene County.
“Unemployment is at an all-time low,” Jones said, adding that Greene County has the challenge of having more jobs than people.
Fully 30 percent of people working in Greene County don’t live in the county, Paxton said.
“We’re trying to attract millennials and young families to our community,” Paxton said.
The dinner also featured a report on the successful RAGBRAI stop in Jefferson in July.
The ride from Denison to Jefferson — 71.7 miles — was the longest of the RAGBRAI week in 2018, said Toni Wetrich, who along with her husband, Jefferson City Councilman Matt Wetrich, chaired the massive, 400-volunteer Jefferson RAGBRAI effort.
“Jefferson gave a great welcome to people from all over the world,” Toni Wetrich said.
One key fact: about 1,200 people went up the Mahanay Bell Tower, she said.