WATERLOO — Hawkeye Community College is raising its profile downtown as plans are made to begin constructing a new urban campus.

The $12 million adult learning center will be highly visible from U.S. Highway 218, just to the south, as a 45,000-square-foot three-story building. It will transform a block between First Street and Mullan Avenue with Jefferson Street to the north that has been empty since the former Waterloo Bowl-In was demolished in 2002.

“This is going to be a wholly new landscaped downtown area, so it’s going to be really beautiful,” said Linda Allen, Hawkeye’s president. College officials have budgeted $8 million in voter-approved, taxpayer-backed bond funds for the project. The remaining money will be raised through grants and a capital campaign.

Hawkeye’s main campus, where students can enroll in certificate programs or earn an associate’s degree, has been on the rural southern edge of Waterloo for most of its 50-year existence. But the college has long served adult education students with noncredit programs through the Metro Center, south of downtown at 844 W. Fourth St., and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, at 515 Beech St. on the east side.

“This is my dream project,” said Allen. It will allow the college “to create the kind of learning environment and support” needed by adults who are earning high school equivalency diplomas, learning English or building employment skills. Allen believes the facility will take Hawkeye’s services “to a whole new level” — including expansion of credit programs aimed at adult learners.

“Having that larger space, it isn’t just more space. It’s more suitable space,” said Sandy Jensen, director of urban centers and adult literacy for Hawkeye. Current facilities provide inadequate spaces for the expanded credit programs, which train people in beginning career skills. “It’s very crowded, so the new space will give us classrooms that can function as classrooms, but also offer new opportunities.”

After a contract is approved by the Board of Trustees, construction will get underway this spring. Officials hope to open the new center in the fall of 2018.

“We’re not designing this building to replicate what we offer at Metro and MLK,” said Allen. Rather, it will meet the needs of the next 50 years, with an eye towards adapting to rapidly changing educational requirements at all levels. A broader base of services will be provided, more than doubling the number of students currently served to 4,500.

Originally conceived as a two-story building, the center’s third floor and 5,000 square feet of space were added during the planning process. Along with classrooms and a computer lab, the third floor will contain an art gallery and space for community events.

“This will allow for the opportunity to have art shows at the new adult learning center,” said Allen. Even when the gallery is closed during events in the community room, such as hosting a speaker, it will be visible through a sliding glass wall.

A wrap-around balcony off of the community and gallery space will face Mullan and Jefferson. “You’ll be able to look out over the city,” she noted.

Adult basic education, English language learner and citizenship classes will be offered on the second floor. Classrooms will be designed for what’s known as technology-enabled active learning. Students will use bluetooth equipped laptops with multiple monitors mounted on the walls, allowing for groups to work together online.

Back at ground level, a student-run coffee shop with its own entrance on Jefferson will be open to the community. The shop, also expected to serve some food, will provide practical experience for students enrolled in Hawkeye’s hospitality program.

The building’s main entrance faces a parking area along Mullan. As people enter, they will be ushered into the “welcome center” — a processing area to register for classes and sign up for transportation, food and housing services.

“The approach we’re going to take to serving students there is to assume everybody needs these services,” said Allen. Upon determining what a student qualifies for, that person will be taken to a video conferencing room. “We’re actually going to get them connected right there with that service provider, with that agency — whatever that may be.”

Some of those services will be available on the building’s ground floor. Students will be able to enroll their infant to preschool-aged children in the Head Start child care center, featuring a self-contained playground.

“We want to make sure we have support for people that are coming with their infants,” said Allen. “We know this is a huge burden for students, and we know that this is a reason they don’t finish a program.”

A health clinic also will be open to students on the ground floor. “It will be basic services like we offer on (main) campus with free or reduced costs,” she explained. “We know that health care is an issue for a lot of individuals and that having that right on site is one more way to ensure student success.”

Staff will take the approach what students learn at the center is only the beginning of their training. “What we also want to do at the adult learning center is to prepare students for college,” Allen said, following either a liberal arts or career track.

Several training programs will be offered on the ground floor, as well, in a computer numerical control machining lab and two large certified nursing assistant classrooms. The spaces will allow Hawkeye to expand its Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program already being offered at the Metro Center. I-BEST students receive instruction in adult basic education or English language skills while simultaneously taking CNC machining or CNA courses.

“We really blend the two together so it’s relevant and it engages the students,” said Jennette Shepard, a lead instructor and coordinator for the program. “They feel like everything they’re learning is relevant and has a purpose.”

The approach accelerates students’ learning so they can more quickly prepare for further education or finding a skilled job.

Bethany Shadow enrolled in the I-BEST CNA program while working to finish the high school equivalency tests. She has completed the CNA requirements, earning three college credits, along with three of the five subject tests for her equivalency diploma.

The 29-year-old Waterloo woman is employed in the dietary department at a nursing home and will begin working as a CNA when a position opens up. She expects to earn the equivalency diploma during the coming months.

Shadow dropped out of Expo High School when she was a teenager. At earlier points, she tried to earn the equivalency diploma but quit.

“It just seemed like so much work then. But now I have more motivation to better myself,” she said, with the simultaneous CNA training option. “The I-BEST is probably one of the best things that came to this school.

“I’m proving to myself that I can accomplish things that I’m doing,” Shadow added. “I thought I wasn’t smart enough to do CNA or high school completion.”

Allen noted the career areas have enough space to be reconfigured as needs evolve. The CNC lab, for example, also could accommodate virtual welding stations if the I-BEST program is further expanded. And, with a child care center in the building, it could serve as a learning lab in a future I-BEST early childhood education program.

“It will let us do all the things we dreamed about and more,” she said.

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