for the Bellevue Herald-Leader

Area voters will see a $40 million bond referendum to add career and technical training opportunities for high school students on the ballot March 2.

The Eastern Iowa Community College Board of Directors Jan. 13 voted unanimously to order a special election, letting voters in Jackson, Clinton, Scott, Louisa, Muscatine, Cedar, Johnson, and Dubuque counties decide whether EICC can sell a maximum of $40 million in general obligation bonds.

If approved by a 60% majority of voters, the money would fund EICC’s career and technical education expansion plan. That plan calls for public school districts within EICC’s boundaries to join with the college to finance new facilities that would provide expanded technical training for high school students in eastern Iowa, including those in Maquoketa, Bellevue, and DeWitt.

The CTE program aims to put workforce-ready degrees in the hands of students who do not pursue higher education after college, especially as 65% of jobs require education and training beyond high school, according to Donald Doucette, EICC chancellor.

Because debt from previous capital projects will be paid off this year, passing the proposed referendum to expand technical training would have minimal impact on tax rates, Doucette said.

The college’s board also approved sharing agreements with 13 area school districts within its footprint: Bellevue, Calamus-Wheatland, Camanche, Central DeWitt, Clinton, Durant, Easton Valley, Louisa-Muscatine, Maquoketa, Muscatine, Northeast, West Liberty, and Wilton.

These districts committed to enrolling  a total of 344 students in the technical programs called for in the plan. That’s about 44 more than the 300 EICC said it needed to make the initiative financially viable, Doucette said.

He noted the “tremendous commitment” from Clinton and Jackson counties — 250 of the total 344 committed seats.

EICC board members Denise Hollonbeck said she was glad the rural schools committed to support the career and technical education program.

“That’s huge,” Hollonbeck said.

While the bond referendum will cover new construction, equipment, and furnishing needs, it will not cover annual operational needs, which Doucette projected to cost slightly more than $1 million per year. Participating school districts will pay flat fees and specified tuition costs to EICC to offset those operational costs.

Clinton Community College, which is part of EICC, already has a campus in Maquoketa. It’s proposed career academies would expand from welding to include CNC machining, engineering technology, and information technology.

In DeWitt, EICC would build a new 22,629-square-foot facility in the Crossroads Industrial Park for an estimated $7.6 million. At that facility, students could sign up for academies in agriculture, business, construction technology, CNC machining, healthcare, and information technology.

Some similar and some unique career academies would be offered at different participating districts and EICC campuses.

Should the referendum pass, the new facilities and equipment should be in use by the fall of 2022 — possibly 2023 in some cases.

Non-approval of the referendum voids the sharing agreements with the school districts, Doucette added.

Proposed CTE details

The $40 million project proposed by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges includes:

• Almost $547,000 in new equipment and upgrades at the Clinton Community College Maquoketa Campus

• A new 22,629-square-foot DeWitt Center building in the Crossroads Industrial Park estimated at $7.6 million

• A 24,322-square-foot addition at the Clinton Community College campus estimated at $8.4 million

• A new health wing at the Scott Community College Belmont Campus in Riverdale for an estimated $6.12 million

• A CTE addition on the Blong Technology Center in Davenport for an estimated $2.54 million

• A CTE and nursing building and welding/advanced manufacturing addition to Muscatine Community College estimated at $12.7 million

• An ag innovation center addition at North Scott High School estimated at $3 million