BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – If Fort Madison High School Principal Greg Smith gets his wish, a regional educational center would be built somewhere in Lee County in the next two years.
Smith made mention of the idea at Monday’s report session by district prinicipals in front of the Fort Madison School Board and said a committee has already been formed to look into the project.
Volunteers from the Southeastern Community College, Lee County Economic Development Group, Fort Madison Community Schools along with several officials with local industries have met on several occasions and even driven to visit other similar facilities in Iowa City and in Jones County in northern Iowa.
Smith said the LCEDG helped him put together a 12 Plus class at the high school to give students a look at entering the workplace, and they put the idea in his head.
“Lee County Economic Development helped me create that 12 Plus class and we wanted to build on those partnerships and get students involved in stuff after high school other than traditional college. Sixty percent of my kids fall into that boat so I was obviously interested. Then they asked if we had considered a regional education facility but we’re talking millions of dollars there.”
“So we went to our industry partners and said if we did some real research and homework and got what we thought we wanted, and we asked if they would help fund it. And they said no problem. They were all very supportive of putting money in and would probably provide some of the instruction I would guess. “The land needed would be approximately 7 to 8 acres and Smith said it would probably need to be located somewhere in central Lee County so all the area districts could take advantage of the facility.”Hopefully we can find someplace out by Central Lee, but we need to find someone that will donate seven to eight acres of land, and the industries have said they have no problem putting up money for the facility,” he said.
If constructed the facility would provide both vocational and academic classes for students that either weren’t really ready for college, but wanted to study a vocation such as traditional welding or health care programs like a CNA. But the facility could also provide for academic classes that area high schools could utilize for dual credit. Smith said he spoke to students at some of the facilities they toured and found that some students were spending half their day there.”You would be amazed how many kids, if you make it a non-college atmosphere will come,” Smith said. “We had heard that and we saw so many kids because it wasn’t a college campus and they liked that.”Because the credit would be issued out of SCC, Smith said the college would likely oversee the facility, but high school credit could obviously be given as well if the local districts agree to do that.
The committee consisting of Smith, Jenny Steffensmeier of Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing, Jason Huffman of Huffman Welding & Machine, Don Weiss, Executive Director of SCC’s CBIZ program, Dr. Michael Ash, President of SCC and several others from LCEDG are working on the project.