Community Celebrates Completion of the Waterloo Career Center
posted on Friday, October 11, 2019 in
WATERLOO — A celebration was held Thursday to mark the completion of the $17 million Waterloo Career Center project, and everybody came.
Waterloo Community Schools’ officials estimate more than 250 people attended the ribbon cutting and grand opening event for the expanded center, located in a two-story space of 80,000-plus square feet at the north end of Central Middle School. It currently offers 14 high school career and technical education programs.
Among the dignitaries were Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, 1st District U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer and numerous local elected officials. The politicians, who each had a turn at the podium, were complimentary of the district’s effort to develop career and technical programs that earn concurrent community college credit. Grassley even said he came up with the idea first.
“When I was a state senator 45 years ago, I thought we should have a K-14 system of education,” he said, that encompasses post-high school training. “I think this is going to fit a very important need that thinks of students first.”
Reynolds suggested it would help educate “skilled, savvy, nimble workers” that would boost her Future Ready Iowa initiative, which aims to ensure 70% of Iowa workers have training or education beyond high school by 2025. The state is at “58% right now, so we have a lot of work to do,” she noted.
“This career center and the hands-on technical career education is transformational,” added the governor. She said it will show students there are various paths to career success. “I’m so impressed with what you’ve been able to do.”
Finkenauer said the center would provide career possibilities for the youths who enroll as well as attract and bring back people to Iowa. She and others called it a model for the rest of the state.
“If we have programs like this all across the state, this is how we keep folks here,” she said.
Ernst said “virtually everywhere I go” employers tell her they can’t find enough workers to fill positions in a “very competitive” job market. “This is really a positive impact for Waterloo,” she said. “When individuals have that workforce training and that skill set, they really unlock that opportunity to succeed.”
Hawkeye Community College worked closely with Waterloo Schools in designing programs at the center. President Todd Holcomb agreed one of its primary purposes is to help deal with the shortage of skilled workers in the state.
“The Waterloo Career Center and Hawkeye Community College will meet the needs and demands for workers in our state,” he said, praising Waterloo Superintendent Jane Lindaman and the district’s Board of Education. “Their wisdom, their courage has led us on this path.”
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart spoke of Lindaman’s “bold leadership” and said the career center contributes to a shifting perception of the city across the region. “Our communities have moved from a ‘Why Waterloo?’ to a ‘Why not Waterloo?’” he said to applause.
“We couldn’t be more excited about this event, which has been years in the making,” said Lindaman. She noted that the idea for a facility offering high school students career training with “hands-on real-world experience” started in 2012.
Then-superintendent Gary Norris, who was in the crowd Thursday, led an effort to explore the possibility of a career center. A task force studied the matter, visiting about 20 high schools in eight states. That included a 2014 trip to a Delaware school district by a majority of Board of Education members.
The board put a bond issue referendum before voters in February 2016 that would have funded a proposed stand-alone center on district property near Central. After it failed, board members decided to go ahead with a scaled-back version in underutilized space at the north end of the middle school building using the district’s 1% sales tax revenues.
It opened in the fall of 2016 with certified nursing assistant and graphic design programs. East, West and Expo high school students could enroll in the 90-minute block classes and earn Hawkeye credits at no cost.
Officials embarked on an ambitious effort to further expand offerings, adding more programs and completing additional renovations during ensuing years. The two-story facility with it’s own facade and entrance was finished this summer.
Programs at the career center and another site are in areas such as construction, digital media, plumbing, education and computer networking. Lab technician, emergency management and physical therapy programs are expected to be added next fall to fill out the facility. Students from the Cedar Falls, Hudson and Dike-New Hartford school districts can also enroll through sharing agreements with Waterloo Schools.
“In my 11 years of being on the board, I’m not quite sure I ever dreamed we could get to this spot,” said Shanlee McNally, the board’s president.
In her comments, Reynolds highlighted 2019 West High School graduate and current Hawkeye student John Powell. He started a Hawkeye program in manufacturing for high school students, EMC2, the summer after his junior year. He then took classes in the career center’s advanced manufacturing program during his senior year.
“John said the Waterloo Career Center and EMC2 at Hawkeye Community College changed his life,” she said. Powell’s work in school improved and he had a “fantastic” senior year.
Powell decided “pretty much after that first summer” at Hawkeye that he wanted to work as a machinist, he said in an interview. The job requires training in computerized equipment used to shape components for a wide range of manufactured products.
“It just clicked,” he said. “This was what I was interested in, this is what I wanted to pursue.
“I got a semester of college done before I got to college,” Powell added. He expects to complete his degree at Hawkeye in three to four semesters.
By Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
- Career Pathways
- Concurrent Enrollment
- Waterloo Career Center
- Waterloo Community School District