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WATERLOO | The small basement classroom at Hawkeye Community College's Metro Center is crammed with rows of desks where students work on laptop computers.

Table-top computer numerical control simulators line the walls. Students can practice their skill at programming a CNC mill to create designs or cut out patterns. Two of the machines plus a number of manual mills and engine lathes are also set up in the room.

All that equipment adds up to a tight fit for the three instructors and 10 students enrolled in Minorities in Manufacturing, a five-month noncredit program targeting those who are receiving adult basic education or various high school services at the center. The course was added to Hawkeye's offerings at the Metro Center, south of downtown at 844 W. Fourth St., to help students gain a skill that could get them hired in the growing field of advanced manufacturing.

"We're just teaching them basic programming," said instructor Jerome Amos as he worked with one of the students on a simulator. "It's giving them a skill that's going to be marketable."

Hawkeye officials dream of expanding workforce training programs such as Metro's CNC machining course and the certified nursing assistant program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, at 515 Beech St. on the east side. It would allow the college to better serve adult education students and English language learners where they live rather than requiring them to get to Hawkeye's main campus on Waterloo's southern boundary.

They hope to accomplish that by consolidating the facilities into a new Adult Education Center with more space for programs.

The proposed new building -- whose site is yet to be determined -- is part of a master plan that would be funded through a $25 million bond referendum coming before voters across Hawkeye's 10-county service area Feb. 3. If approved, the general obligation bonds would be repaid by continuing a property tax that has been in place since 2003.

"We've only been able to carve out space for limited programs" at the existing facilities, said Hawkeye President Linda Allen. "If we had the new urban campus, we could expand and offer full-blown programs in three, four areas."

She envisions expanding workforce development services through the career training courses and a for-credit liberal arts track that would allow students to transfer to a four-year institution.

Other proposed capital improvements include a new health sciences technology center and renovations of Grundy Hall. Issuing general obligation bonds is a primary funding mechanism for community colleges to finance new construction and major renovations under state law.

However, "it's more than buildings, much more than buildings," said Allen, noting the construction will be closely tied to program changes and expansion. "We used a very comprehensive process to develop this plan."

The bond issue would allow for "expanding our capacity" in high-demand fields such health care and advanced manufacturing to meet essential needs today and anticipated areas of growth, she noted. "It's the skilled worker shortage, plain and simple."

It would also allow for creation of more career academies in high schools and at college outreach centers. "Expansion is really the key," said Allen. She noted students are more likely to choose an in-demand career field not present in their own community if they are exposed to it through one of Hawkeye's programs.

Taxes wouldn't change

Hawkeye's board of trustees in July approved setting the referendum for Feb. 3. The bonds would be repaid over 10 years through a property tax totaling about $13.20 annually on a home valued at $100,000 -- which college officials have noted amounts to $1.10 per month.

Voter approval would not change Hawkeye’s overall property tax rate of about 95 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. College officials have said the bond portion of the tax levy would rise from 13 cents to 25 cents of the total. However, the college has adequate reserve funds to reduce other tax rates that make up the overall levy.

"Our board was very enthusiastic in supporting this program," said Steve Dust, CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber. "A community college, to us in economic development, is part of the essential infrastructure. The supply of people is critical to growth in our economy now."

A new $8 million Adult Education Center is in the first of the plan's three phases. The 40,000-square-foot center would replace two aging buildings without adequate space for expansion. Allen said they will likely be looking at sites around downtown Waterloo, but no location decisions will be made until the referendum passes and users of the services can be surveyed about their needs and preferences.

The 3,800-square-foot Martin Luther King Jr. Center was built in 1950. The Metro Center was built in 1962 and has 31,000 square feet, about 40 percent of which is usable for classrooms or offices.

The Metro Center serves about 2,000 people annually, including 1,400 last year who were studying for the High School Equivalency Test. In addition, "we've seen a 35 percent increase in people coming to our center asking for language help," said Allen, noting English language learners have come from 86 countries in recent years.

"The folks that we work with here are the unemployed or underemployed," she added.

The proposed expansion of career training programs would allow the college to prepare more people for job opportunities that are available now. The approach will integrate adult basic education or English language learner classes with career training, using a team of teachers.

Allen said they would also be offering for-credit course options that could lead to a degree and even more career possibilities. "We want to create an almost limitless pathway for students," she said.

Former Waterloo firefighter Mike Fristo said he's enjoying the Minorities in Manufacturing program, which he enrolled in after injuring his knee and taking early retirement from Waterloo Fire Rescue.

Hearing about the program was "an opportunity that kind of fell right in front of me," said the 59-year-old, as he created a design on a block of plastic using a CNC mill. "I'd like to get back into the workforce."

He'll complete the program next month and earn the CNC machining certificate.

A $1.5 million expansion in Hawkeye's high school career academies is also part of phase one, with $500,000 coming from bond funds. Hawkeye works with all school districts in its service area to provide academy programming, which includes dual high school and college credit for certain liberal arts and technical courses.

Classes are taught by a Hawkeye instructor or an appropriately credentialed teacher from the participating high school. They are either offered at the high schools or college outreach centers in Waverly, Grundy County and Independence.

"Last year, we served 2,800 high school students in our service area," said Allen. Based on Hawkeye's tuition rates, that saved $1.7 million during 2013-14 for those families. School districts pay students' tuition out of their state funding.

Dust praised the career academies. He said it allows student to "get a taste for something that will hook them into participating in the economy. It's increasing the supply of talent in filling the jobs" needed by Cedar Valley employers.

Ongoing plan 

Construction of a $15 million Health Sciences Technology Center on Hawkeye's main campus is the second phase of the plan. The 75,000-square-foot facility would allow the college to expand its health-care programs and simulation technology while putting it all under one roof.

Health programs at the college include nursing, dental hygienist, physical and occupational therapy assisting, and emergency medical services. Currently, the programs are divided between Grundy Hall and the Health Education Services Center on campus and Hawkeye's Cedar Falls Center.

"So, they're spread out in different facilities," said Allen. "What we'd like to do is move beyond that model."

In the new building, the college would be able to do cross-disciplinary training that would allow everyone access to cutting edge simulation technology in an expanded virtual hospital setting.

Hawkeye officials believe it will be important to increase the capacity of some programs and expand into new career areas. Allen noted that 46 percent of nurses in Iowa are at least 50 years old, meaning many of them will be moving toward retirement in the coming years. "We have to continue to build that pipeline for the existing programs," she said.

Allen said the facility will probably be "in proximity" to the HESC, on the northwest corner of the campus, which contains the wellness center. The physical and occupational therapy assisting programs are currently located in that facility, too.

Dust is excited about the college's plans for health-care programs. "It goes to make sure our big health-care sector stays healthy," he said.

A $2 million renovation of Grundy Hall is the plan's third phase, with $1.5 million coming from bond funds. Renovations of the 67,000-square-foot building will allow for an updated and expanded space for liberal arts courses. Technology improvements as well as customized lab and classroom spaces will be included in the renovations.

Allen noted technology in the classroom has become important for engaging students. "Kids are getting this in elementary now," she said. "We have to give it to them in college."

Polling locations throughout Hawkeye's service area will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Feb. 3.

Winning approval of the referendum could be challenging, though, since Iowa law requires a 60 percent supermajority for passage. The expiring bond issue was approved in 2003 with almost 64 percent of the vote after a similar referendum narrowly failed twice in the preceding year.

Casey McLaughlin, chairman of Hawkeye's board, pointed to the good condition of college facilities to highlight the importance of the past master plan and obtaining funding for the new one. "That comes from an ongoing plan," he said. "That's a high priority, to stay at or above where the business community needs us to be."

If the referendum doesn't pass, "there's a Plan B out there, but we haven't considered that," McLaughlin added. "We believe we're going to be successful."

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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