New high school, regional academy proposed to Greene County board

Chris Deal said as he was making a presentation at the Greene County Schools board of education meeting Wednesday that he was “throwing this crazy idea out and seeing if it resonates.”

His “crazy” idea seems to resonate with many who have heard it. The idea – build a new high school on Highway 30 near Highway 4, and across the school parking lot build a regional academy in partnership with Iowa Central Community College.

With Deal as a presenter at the meeting was Sid Jones, president of Home State Bank and Greene County Development Corporation, and Iowa Central Community College president Dr Dan Kinney.

Kinney also spoke, telling the board, “I guarantee you, you won’t go wrong and you’ll see growth in the community.”

Deal, a 2003 Jefferson-Scranton graduate, described the Pella Career Academy he saw as a participant in the Leadership Iowa program a year ago. The academy is just 20 feet away from Pella High School. It is a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College and prepares students with the skills needed by area employers including Vermeer and Pella Windows. Students there can graduate from high school with a two-year degree or very close to it.

He called on Jones to brainstorm the idea. “It seemed like an opportunity to step back, re-look at our facilities, and bring a different level of education to the county,” Jones said.

They brought Dan Benitz, a longtime vocational teacher, Doug McDermott, retired Home State Bank president and now the Greene County member of the Iowa Central board, and school superintendent Tim Christensen into the discussion. They talked several times with Kinney and Christensen has talked with superintendents at schools within a 30 mile radius of Jefferson. Jones has begun making the rounds of area manufacturers, and he’s even talked with property owners along Highway 30 about donating land as a legacy.

The “crazy” idea is getting traction. The Deal/Jones plan costs about the same as the twice-failed bond referendum. The new high school would have a competition gym, but their plan is to build it with private dollars. Jones has talked with Grow Greene County about possibly funding the gym and a performing arts center over a 10-year period.

The $4 million not spent on a gym would go to build the regional academy. Iowa Central has agreed to provide the instructors and all the equipment needed, and to sign a 10-year lease on the building. The partnership with Iowa Central would make the academy revenue neutral to the school district in operating expenses.

Work would be done at the current high school to repurpose it as a 5-8 building, just as in the previous bond referendums.

The regional academy would be tailored to the employment needs of the area, offering advanced manufacturing (welding, lathe, etc), hospitality/catering, nursing/health sciences, ag IT/data systems (to service the computer technology on farm equipment), and high level computer science.

“We’d be forming partnerships with manufacturers, helping them grow by providing the employees they need,” Deal said. He added that the academy could also attract new employers.

Students would come from eight different school districts including Greene County, with each district paying a share.

The Deal/Jones proposal for a regional academy is still under discussion, and they, Christensen, and the board is looking for input from the community before moving forward.

According to Christensen, it’s important that the idea came from community members, not from him or the board.

The next steps are to retain an architect to determine potential costs, and to have meetings around the district to learn what the needs are and to hear ideas and feedback. “We need to determine if there’s support for going this direction before we go further,” he said.

Jones added that it’s important to keep the meetings small, perhaps as small as 10 or 12 people, and to keep them transparent.

The board of education on Wednesday approved putting out a request for proposals from architectural firms. The proposal would set a cost to draw very preliminary plans and to have someone at each of the small meetings.

Christensen hopes to have proposals within a few weeks. The board’s facilities committee will review them, four or five will be invited to give presentations, and the board will select a firm at its Nov. 20 meeting.

Editor’s note: The proposal aligns with the Future Ready Iowa Alliance recommendations announced Tuesday. Read those recommendations under the Opinion tab at GreeneCountyNewsOnline

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