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Education
Supporters make their mark on HCC's new urban campus

Allen

WATERLOO — Students, staff and supporters of Hawkeye Community College made their mark Tuesday on the new urban campus under construction downtown.

Hawkeye held a “beam signing” ceremony at the Adult Learning Center site just north of U.S. Highway 218 and along U.S. Highway 63. Silver Sharpie markers were handed out so attendees could sign one of the steel beams on the first floor of the building, on Jefferson Street between First Street and Mullan Avenue.

Work has been underway since April, when 14 building contracts were awarded by the board of trustees for the $12.96 million project. It will replace Hawkeye’s Metro and Martin Luther King Jr. centers, doubling the capacity for serving students to 4,000.

“This is really a significant event for Hawkeye Community College,” noted President Linda Allen, saying the building symbolizes a transformation in how students are educated. “We absolutely love this location.”

“Our dream is taking shape,” said Sandy Jensen, Hawkeye’s director of urban centers and adult literacy. The new facility will allow the college to continue serving adult students in a “more robust, efficient manner,” she added.

Months into construction, the outline of the 45,000-square-foot three-story building is evident, with its steel skeleton one of the defining features. Workers were busy on other parts of the site as people gathered on the concrete floor at the Jefferson Street side for the ceremony.

Adult education students will be the focus of the center’s programs. Officials anticipate work will be completed in time for it to open by the fall of 2018.

“My classmates and I, we are so excited,” said Angelica Rodriguez, a student in the English language learner program at the Metro Center. “It’s, like, important to us, because we’ll have so many opportunities.”

Rodriguez is in her second semester at the Metro Center and expects to still be taking classes when the new building opens. She hopes to serve the Spanish-speaking community as a translator after completing the ELL program. She also dreams of someday offering free Zumba classes for people too poor to afford a gym membership.

Tim Mosley has worked at John Deere and traveled during his life, “but I never got my education” until enrolling in Hawkeye’s high school completion program 18 months ago. The 53-year-old believes the new facility will allow the college to serve even more people like him.

“I know I speak proudly for all the staff and students,” he told attendees. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us and for future students.”

Along with the programs Rodriguez and Mosley are enrolled in, the new center will offer adult basic education, citizenship and family literacy classes. Hawkeye also plans to expand nursing assistant and computer numerical control machining programs for college credit at the site. More credit and career training programs may be added later.

CNC and nursing labs will be on the first floor, as will a number of services for students — a health clinic, child care and a hub to connect students to community agencies. A coffee shop and cafe that will also function as a student learning lab is planned for the ground floor. On the third floor will be areas for student artwork and performances plus community meeting space.

About $8 million of the facility’s cost will come from a $25 million bond issue approved by voters in February 2015.

“This is our first major project using revenue from that bond,” said Allen. She also pointed to donors who have helped fund the construction.

The project won a $1 million grant from the Black Hawk County Gaming Association in February. She said others who have donated a combined $700,000 include the R.J. McElroy Trust, the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa and Lincoln Savings Bank.

“All of these groups and individuals supported this project, so we want to thank them for that support,” said Allen. Other grants will be sought and the college plans to do private fundraising for the rest of the money.

Construction contracts account for $10.94 million of the total budget. Twelve contractors are taking part in the project, which is being managed by Cardinal Construction of Waterloo. Remaining costs include construction management, design and contingency fees plus other expenses like permits and testing.


Govt-and-politics
Iowa bucks K-12 school funding trend

CEDAR RAPIDS — Although increases in state aid have been small, Iowa is bucking the trend of declining public investment in K-12 schools.

State aid to public schools has declined dramatically in a majority of states over the past decade, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Arizona, for example, state funding dropped almost 37 percent.

In Iowa, however, researchers found total state funding per student, adjusted for inflation, increased 20.6 percent from 2008 to 2015. Only North Dakota, Illinois and Alaska had greater increases according to the analysis of data from the Census Bureau Public Elementary-Secondary Education 2015 data and National Center for Education Statistics.

In states providing less funding per student than in 2008, cuts have “real and damaging consequences for local school districts because local schools are generally unable to make up for deep cuts in state funds,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the center.

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit and in many states funding has not been restored. In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, 29 states provided less funding per student than in 2008.

That’s a concern because the nation’s “future depends heavily on the quality of its schools,” according to the authors of the report titled “A Punishing Decade for School Funding.”

“Increasing financial support can help K-12 schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes and expanding the availability of high-quality early education,” they wrote.

Even in Iowa, where Leachman found funding increases, schools have not been immune from larger class sizes and staff reductions. There are 1.4 million more K-12 students across the country this year than in 2008, but 135,000 fewer teachers and other staff.

“So it’s problematic that some states have headed sharply in the opposite direction over the last decade,” he said. “These cuts risk undermining schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.”

In most states, school funding has gradually improved since 2015, but some states that cut very deeply after the recession still are providing much less support. As of the current school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to a survey the center conducted using state budget documents.

This year, the Iowa Legislature approved a 1.1-percent increase, about $40 million. That translates into a per-pupil average of $6,664, an increase of $73.

That increased total state general fund dollars for K-12 education to nearly $3.2 billion, a 3.5 percent increase over the current year, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

When state and local spending is combined, Iowa showed a 4.9 percent increase, 13th highest among the 21 states that posted positive numbers. In Iowa, local property taxes generated through the school aid formula are estimated to be $1.477 billion, an increase of $55.4 million over fiscal 2017.

Read the full report online at https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding.


Local
Fareway store proposed for southern Cedar Falls

CEDAR FALLS — A new Fareway grocery store is planned at the southeast corner of Greenhill Road and South Main Street.

City officials have received plans for the approximately 21,000-square-foot store in the Pinnacle Prairie development. The project is subject to city approval, and some neighbors have expressed concerns about traffic in the area.

“We’re excited they have interest and that we got them on board,” said Dustin Whitehead of Lockard Cos. “We’ve been talking to them over the last 10 years whether they’d be interested in another grocery in that part of town.”

The company has a store in south Waterloo, built in 1994; one west of Thunder Ridge Court in the northwest part of Cedar Falls, built in 1996; one in Evansdale, built in 2006; and one in Waverly. Headquartered in Boone, Fareway has 118 stores in five states.

The new Cedar Falls store would be adjacent to a Kwik Star convenience store proposed just east of the Fareway site. Both projects are anticipated to come before the city planning commission in mid-December. The projects would be near the proposed site of a Cedar Falls public safety building and the Western Home Communities sprawling South Main Street campus.

With city approval, the new Fareway would be built over the next 12 to 18 months.

At a Nov. 30 City Council hearing on plans for the new public safety building, Penny Popp, a resident of the El Dorado Heights subdivision southwest of South Main and Greenhill, said the city must address existing traffic concerns in the area, which could be compounded by any additional development.

“I would hope that the city will include those residents that have objective and accurate information in the planning of any changes they would make,” Popp said.

David Sturch of the city planning staff said improvements are contemplated for the area, including adding traffic signals and turning lanes. The interim work could be done concurrent with the new development until final improvements can be determined and installed, possibly in 2019-20. No cost estimates have been prepared.

Whitehead said a Pinnacle Prairie design review committee has recommended city approval of the Fareway, Kwik Star and public safety building projects. Developer approval is required under Pinnacle Prairie’s mixed-use zoning designation.

Pinnacle Prairie is a 780-acre residential-commercial development conceived more than a decade ago on land owned by Oster and developed by Lockard.


Govt-and-politics
Traer utility wins natural gas vote to take over service from Alliant

TRAER — Voters trust their local municipal utility will do a better job of handling their natural gas service than their longtime provider.

That’s according to the official, final results of a recount conducted by the Tama County Auditor’s Office on Tuesday, giving Traer Municipal Utilities the go-ahead to begin the process to take over natural gas infrastructure and maintenance from Alliant Energy.

The vote tally was officially 269 in favor of TMU taking over the service to 262 opposed, unchanged from the unofficial tally, according to Tama County Auditor Laura Kopsa.

Both TMU and Alliant thanked the voters in separate statements Tuesday.

“We learned, as expected, that the recount process did not have any effect on the outcome of the election,” said Pat Stief, general manager of TMU. “With that behind us, we will prepare to move forward with the required legal and regulatory proceedings as required by the Iowa Code and the Iowa Utilities Board in trying to determine a fair market value of the local gas system.”

That process will likely involve several months of wrangling over the price of the natural gas system in court, a process Alliant derided Tuesday as costly to the residents of Traer.

“In the coming months, we will provide information and details to our customers as the city begins the expensive and risky process of condemning our system to take it over,” said Mike Wagner, spokesperson for Alliant. “Our promise is to provide our customers with safe, low-cost and reliable natural gas services as long as the (Traer) City Council and TMU allow us to operate our system.”

The vote was not a mandate to take over the system, and Stief previously told The Courier if Alliant’s system ended up costing more than TMU believed it could recoup, TMU would not go forward with the process.

“We are eager to prove that we can provide safe, reliable and competitively priced gas service to the citizens and businesses of Traer,” Stief said. “We will remain cautiously optimistic that Alliant will consider the interests of the citizens of Traer and choose to be cooperative in these matters.”