Kirkwood looks to build education center on UI's Oakdale campus

$46 million bond issue will be decided by voters on Sept. 13

The National Advanced Driving Simulator and Simulation Center at the Oakdale Campus of the University of Iowa. (Sourceme
The National Advanced Driving Simulator and Simulation Center at the Oakdale Campus of the University of Iowa. (Sourcemedia Group)

CEDAR RAPIDS - Should voters approve a $46 million bond issue for Kirkwood Community College next month, institution leaders plan to construct three new regional education centers by as early as August 2013, including one on the University of Iowa’s Oakdale campus.

Kirkwood’s proposed Oakdale education center would be the first of its kind in the nation because of the collaboration between a university, community college and regional K-12 schools, Kirkwood President Mick Starcevich told The Gazette editorial board Wednesday.

“This is the first one on a university campus,” Starcevich said, adding that the collaboration was natural because the University of Iowa has the land and — with the passage of the bond issue — Kirkwood will have the building.

“But none of this happens if we don’t pass the bond issue,” Starcevich said.

The measure, which will generate $46.5 million over 15 years to build the new education centers and renovate Linn Hall on Kirkwood’s Cedar Rapids campus, will go before voters on the Sept. 13 regular school election ballot in Kirkwood’s seven-county district.

If approved, the new bond issue will continue one already in place, meaning it won’t add a new tax to property owners’ bills and won’t increase the amount they currently pay, officials said.

Voters in 2005 passed a 10-year bond measure for Kirkwood that runs through 2015. The new bond issue, which needs 60 percent voter approval to pass, would start when the first one ends. That means the measure, which would generate 0.20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, would continue through 2030.

“We think it’s a great deal for the community,” Starcevich said.

The first bond issue helped pay for new buildings on Kirkwood’s campuses and the Jones Regional Education Center in Monticello, a pilot project at the time. Starcevich said the college decided to ask voters for more money to erect more education centers in the Marion, Iowa City and Washington areas based on the popularity of the Monticello facility.

“It was a huge success,” he said. “The need is out there.”

The idea behind education centers is to keep offering the continuing education and college programs available now while also providing high school students the chance to take college-level courses, Career Academy curriculum, advanced high school curriculum and other educational programming. The Jones center offers more than a dozen career academy programs, from engineering to health science to architectural technology.

Building more of these centers takes the concept “about 10 miles farther,” Starcevich said.

The centers will help save university-bound students time and money by giving them a head start on college courses. About a dozen high schools near the proposed Oakdale campus — including Iowa City High, West High and Solon High schools — have expressed interest in sending students there, and the University of Iowa views the facility as a prime place to send student teachers, Starcevich said.

Academy programs at Oakdale would include criminal justice and modern journalism, and the “dream” for that campus would be to offer a culinary program that would have students running a restaurant during the lunch hour.

For the proposed center near Marion, Kirkwood is hoping to collaborate with the YMCA to offer a pool along with physical therapy and occupational therapy programs.

Both the Oakdale and Marion centers are expected to have about 70,000 square feet of space, and the Washington site would more closely resemble the Monticello center with about 30,000 square feet, said Steve Carpenter, print services director for Kirkwood.

“The size is driven by the area high school participation and the number of students,” Carpenter said. “We will build it for the number of students pledged to be involved there, plus some expansion capability.”

The University of Iowa has agreed to track and study the students who go through the centers to gauge the program success, Carpenter said.

“I think we can understand better the transitions from K-12 to college life overall and from community college transfers to a four-year university like Iowa,” he said. “The more we understand the dynamics of it all, the better.”

If the Kirkwood bond issue passes, the college also will renovate Linn Hall on the main Cedar Rapids campus. The building, which has 200,000 square feet of classrooms, labs and offices, needs an updated heating and cooling system, among other upgrades.A new geothermal system in Linn Hall is expected to save Kirkwood about $200,000 a year in energy expenses.

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