Plans for a proposed regional career and technical education (CTE) center operated by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges are solidifying, and the center could cost between $7 million and $11 million, says EICC President Brian Kelly. 

For several years area educators have sought a facility that enhances the area’s ability to locally teach skilled trades.

The proposed campus would offer high school students, college students, and adults a locale to shore up their certifications or obtain degrees and new employable skills. 

A bond referendum vote would be needed to fund the CTE project; Kelly said he hopes to offer the CTE center up for public voting in the spring.

The regional CTE center would be a part of a larger asking by EICC that would include additional projects taking place in Muscatine, Scott and Louisa counties, although the Clinton and Jackson CTE center would be “one of the larger projects in the portfolio,” Kelly said. 

Kelly said the other projects do not yet have cost estimates, and the total amount on the referendum couldn’t be calculated yet.  

“Scott and Muscatine are going to do a study and come up with numbers,” Kelly said. “And then we will package that together and say, ‘here’s what the EICC group can do for the community.’”  

Plans coming into focus

In the meantime, Kelly, other EICC officials, and area superintendents from both counties are hammering out the center’s details including its potential footprint, location, and programs offered. 

Kelly said discussions with architects revealed a 25,000- to 31,000-square-foot building would serve the college’s educational needs.

The structure would offer flexibility — a key component of any CTE learning environment, Kelly said. Over time, industry demands change, and space that once was devoted to one trade may need to shift to another. 

“If the area attracts something new in the workforce and it’s exciting to our students and community, we would be able to respond to that,” Kelly said. “We need to be agile and respond to community needs, but even more so industry needs.”

The center’s location is still up in the air. Two options currently on the table are constructing a building adjacent to the Clinton Community College campus in Clinton or building a new structure in a separate location.

“That comes with additional expenses,” Kelly said.

Kelly explained officials have already scouted real estate “in another area in Clinton County” but did not divulge its location. He said the center’s location would be discussed in upcoming meetings with area superintendents. 

One aspect of the center that is becoming clear is the expected program offerings. EICC worked alongside area superintendents and principals, as well as industry leaders, to develop a program roster. Tentatively, curriculum will be offered in the following areas:

Advanced manufacturing and welding 

Architecture and construction

Automotive technology and diesel mechanics

Health services including nursing, EMT and medical assistant

Human services including culinary arts and hospital management 

Computer science

Engineering technology — both electrical and robotics

Transportation, distribution and logistics. 

Educators are looking at a “Career Academy” model that provides students with a clear progression from preparatory high school CTE courses to college-level CTE courses. The goal is to provide a pathway that provides options along the way, depending on the level of instruction students may want to pursue and when they may want to enter the workforce. 

Who is participating?

For several years, a CTE-type center has been the apple of area superintendents’ eyes. School districts including Clinton, Central DeWitt, Camanche, Calamus-Wheatland, Northeast, Maquoketa, Easton Valley and Bellevue all have expressed interest in participating in the development and use of the campus.

Northeast Superintendent Neil Gray said planning gained momentum in the months before the COVID-19 pandemic, and a bond vote could have taken place as soon as this fall if details had come together. 

“We lost some of our steam due to the COVID closure,” Gray said. “I think we were at a pretty good place (then).”

A concern raised by some participating schools, especially those in the northern reaches of the EICC footprint, would be travel time from their districts to the CTE center. 

Educators fear that high school upperclassmen could spend as much as half of their instructional time traveling back and forth for their courses. 

Tom Meyer, Bellevue Public Schools superintendent, said the district is still involved in talks. 

“I don’t know where it stands or where it will be located,” Meyer said. “But I think it would be a great opportunity for students. The location is a component for us. The travel and distance is a concern, but at the same time, if this can enhance the junior/senior year for kids, we want to provide everything we can for our students.”

Maquoketa Superintendent Chris Hoover and Easton Valley Superintendent Chris Fee expressed their districts’ support for the CTE center as well and said they are fully on board. 

Hoover said if the proposed CTE center is too far from Maquoketa. “We are hoping to discuss the possibility of having some additional spaces and programming added to our Maquoketa (Clinton Community College) campus,” he said.

Filling a need

In a market survey conducted with area industry leaders, EICC found an increasing need in the area for skilled trades. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that need. 

“We saw (a need) after the 2008 recession when the community needed job retraining,” Kelly said. “We had a lot of people coming out of the workforce who needed news skills, and they came to the community college. And we saw some of our largest enrollment gains in several decades. I think we stand a good chance to see a similar scenario.”

Studies show high school students who receive hands-on CTE training are far more likely to graduate than those who do not, Gray said. Proponents also point to studies showing that CTE students tend to stay closer to their hometowns.

“If we can show a commitment to our students, it’s going to be attractive to industries to locate here,” Kelly said. “We need to have the training capacity to meet their workforce needs.”

Additional reporting provided by Tim Manning.