Education, training opportunities expected to abound at center
Former Wal-Mart building in Lexington will house offices, classrooms, lab and industrial space, more.
The former Wal-Mart building in Lexington will soon bustle with another kind of energy.
College, high school, preschool and technical training classes are planned in the 64,000 square-foot structure nestled along Plum Creek Parkway in Lexington. Joint space for computer and industrial labs, conference rooms and more is also in the blueprint.
Called “The Dawson County Opportunity Center,” Jen Wolf describes the venture as an opportunity to increase skilled labor in Dawson County.
“It opens up the doors for more skilled labor with the space to be able to design training specific for our business and industry in the county,” said Wolf, director of Dawson Area Development (DAD) which is partnering with the City of Lexington and others in planning the center. “We now have all the players and the space.”
The City of Lexington owns the building.
Wolf said a $512,200 neighborhood stabilization grant the agency recently received from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development will help renovate 9,354 square feet of joint space for such things as computer and industrial labs, rooms for heavy equipment and conference rooms for teleconferencing.
Renovation of office and other space will be funded by the City of Lexington and other entities involved in the project.
Lease arrangements will be worked out with the City of Lexington, she said.
So far, Lexington Public Schools will have room for a preschool and an alternative education program while Central Community College will relocate in the center from a downtown location and offer courses.
A workforce development office, now located across the street from Lexington High School, will move into the center as well as a satellite office for DAD to manage its county career Web site.
In addition, the Lexington Chamber of Commerce will move its office there.
Wolf said they are also working with the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Tyson Fresh Meats, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and more businesses and services to have offerings in the center.
“We didn’t want to be a college campus but wanted a place where people knew they could register for a job or hire people or do training,” Wolf explained. “It will be a one-stop shop.”
Another exciting part of the opportunity center, she said, will be incubator space for a start-up business or other type of entrepreneurial venture.
“Maybe it’s a business that needs to wait for a patent,” she said.
Wolf said the importance of entrepreneurial space came about from focus meetings with different groups while planning the opportunity center.
In addition to entrepreneurs, she said educators, health-care providers, agricultural producers and workforce development people met to discuss what they would like to see included in the opportunity center.
Special needs such as sinks for nursing classes or specific power requirements for manufacturing classes have also been considered.
“It’s a whole list and how they will all mesh together,” Wolf said. “And knowing everyone’s needs.”
For example, she pointed to Tyson Fresh Meats in Lexington.
With up to 2,700 employees, Wolf said the packing plant operates like a small town and needs skilled labor like plumbers, electricians and nurses.
“They can train people to work on the floor but it’s hard to find other people for skilled jobs,” she explained.
Another aspect of the center is the potential for use of joint space.
Wolf said the county has a high percentage of manufacturing jobs with similar and different needs—the latter which involves on-the-job training at the specific business.
However similar needs, such as how to be safe around heavy equipment, can be taught at the center.
Spacial rooms could also be used to accommodate large groups like teachers throughout the county who might gather for a joint in-service.
Although community colleges have been around for a long time, Wolf described the opportunity center as unique and a challenge to create.
“We send so many people away to college who don’t come back,” she said. “People can take college classes at the opportunity center and don’t have to go away.
“Maybe all they need is a trade or certificate or introduction classes for job training.”
Bids for the renovation of space for Lexington Public Schools will be received Sept. 4, Wolf said.
Officials hope to start remodeling joint space with help from grant money in February or March of 2010 with completion six months later.
Although most of the work will be inside—on a prioritized basis because of cost—she said they plan to change the outside appearance of the building.
“It’s been real exciting working with people on a county-wide basis,” Wolf said. “It’s not a Lex project because it will benefit the whole county.”
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