Learning center organizers nearing mid-point of drive for $1.3 million project

This sketch shows the planned expansion of the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s current vocational-technical center on Jefferson Street next to Kriegbaum Field. Graphic provided.

Organizers of a proposed Huntington County Community Learning Center have announced that they are nearing the midpoint in raising money for the $1.3-million project.

The public-private sector project would be in an existing building, 2201 N. Jefferson St., in Huntington, owned by the Huntington County Community School Corporation. That building would be expanded from 18,000 square feet to 24,000 square feet as part of the project.

Plans call for a self-sustaining center for high school students and adults that would provide skills training and education for a number of in-demand occupations, including precision machining, certified welding, certified nursing assistants, EMTs and information technology. Some college-level coursework would also be provided.

"We envision a one-stop planned center for everyone to come together to receive postsecondary instruction," says John Niederman, president of Pathfinder Services Inc. and a member of the project's planning team. "We want to brand ourselves as a lifelong learning community."

Niederman says people throughout northeast Indiana would have access to the center, although he said ideally some might ultimately choose to live and work in Huntington County.

"We want to reverse a trend of a declining 18-and-under population and a declining 18-to-44 population," he says. "The birth rate is not keeping up with the migration rate and we want to give people the best opportunity to gain skills and be employed and live here."

Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast and other postsecondary education providers would offer some of the skills development programs. WorkOne Northeast would lease space in the facility and provide additional skills assessment, training and career guidance.

Ivy Tech is also providing more than $200,000 in high-tech training equipment that can be used at the learning center.

To date, $555,300 has been raised for the project. Among the cash donors are the city of Huntington, $200,000; Huntington County Commissioners, $180,000; Huntington County Community Foundation, $65,000; United Way of Huntington County, $65,000; Pathfinder Services, $25,000; and Bippus State Bank, $10,000.

The school corporation will continue to pay maintenance costs on the building, which now houses vocational education programs for high school students.

"We see a current eight-hour-a-day facility that provides some services to school students becoming a 16-hour-a-day facility that would provide programming for both students and adults, with adult programming largely in the evenings," says Tracy Shafer, superintendent of the school corporation and a member of the project planning team.

Shafer says organizers hope to raise the full $1.3 million by spring and begin expanded programming in the fall.

He and Niederman said the planning team has been working with a number of prospective private-sector partners to generate the remainder of the project revenue.

"This is a communitywide project," Shafer said, "that will ensure that all citizens of the community have access to local educational opportunities that foster life-long learning, help attract and retain talent, and support economic growth in the region."

About Northeast Indiana Works: Northeast Indiana Works provides public and private financial and employment resources to businesses and individuals for education and skills training to meet the needs of regional industries. The nonprofit sets policy for how public and private funds are utilized to support talent development. It also operates and staffs the 11 county-based WorkOne Northeast career centers in the region. Individuals and companies may access resources and services by visiting or calling WorkOne in their county.

Complete caption: This sketch shows the planned expansion of the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s current vocational-technical center on Jefferson Street next to Kriegbaum Field. The expansion would allow the building to house a proposed Huntington County Community Learning Center, offering skills training to both adults and students.