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DMACC, Story County school districts explore job training lab


Six years after forming a consortium to begin offering technical training courses to their students through Des Moines Area Community College, Story County’s seven public school districts are now actively looking into finding a permanent facility for the classes.

Besides providing a focal point for technical training to high school students, the facility could also serve as a “rapid-response lab” to quickly train workers for emerging technology businesses that might relocate to Ames, said DMACC President Rob Denson.

Similar to the Des Moines Independent Community School District’s Central Campus just west of downtown Des Moines, the Story County districts offer their students a range of technical training programs, including building trades, nursing, automotive, culinary arts and computer technician training. However, unlike the students at Central Campus, the 275 Story County students expected to enroll in the programs this fall don’t have a centralized facility for the courses.

“It’s been a discussion item for the past several years,” Denson said. “Only in the past month has it gotten to the stage of acting on it.” Between $1 million and $2 million in private funding would need to be raised before the DMACC board would vote to move forward in a partnership with the Ames consortium, he said.

All of the seven Story County school districts recently signed 28e intergovernmental agreements with DMACC that outline the minimum enrollment numbers the schools would provide, said Larry Shaeffer, director of the Story County Consortium.

“I think the central location would really up our numbers, so we’re excited about the possibility,” he said.

School administrators hope to create a facility with about 35,000 square feet of space, either in an existing or a newly constructed building, Shaeffer said. One alternative being considered is to lease a portion of the empty 110,000-square-foot factory built at the airport several years ago for Visionaire, a St. Louis-based start-up aircraft manufacturing venture that never began production.

“The existing facilities we are using for these Story County programs are less than ideal,” said Randy Mead, DMACC’s dean of program development. “We utilize space at the school district, at Mary Greeley Medical Center and some trailers for the construction trades program. We’re sort of all over where we teach the programs.”

Some of the students have to drive down from Ames as well as from smaller communities just north of Ames to DMACC’s Ankeny campus for the auto collision repair and other programs, he said. In other instances, Cisco computer training classes are held in elementary classrooms during non-school hours.

“The real essence of a facility is something you can call your own and provide benefits for your students,” Mead said. The courses serve as a valuable connection between the high school students and Iowa’s community colleges, he said.

“It gets these kids connected to the programs at the community colleges and tells them they can do it,” he said.

From a manufacturer’s perspective, having a centralized facility will make continued training for employees easier, said Tim Hill, human resources manager for Sauer-Danfoss Inc., which employs 750 people at its Ames plant.

“DMACC has provided us on-site training in the past; having a facility here in Ames would be very beneficial for our employees, either during work or after work,” Hill said. “We’re excited about it.”

Company officials have met with school administrators several times about Sauer-Danfoss’ training needs, which range from machining and maintenance training to basic hydraulics instruction for factory technicians.

“But it’s not limited to that,” Hill said. “We would also be asking for information technology training for certain positions we have, such as those that use Microsoft Office.” He estimated the company would have more than 100 employees a year use the training.

Hill said he sees potential benefit in a training facility for other manufacturers in the Ames area such as Barilla America Inc., 3M Co. and Hach Co.

The consortium is now working to contact companies and business groups in Story County, and is also seeking federal grants.

“It certainly is a good idea to be more responsive to the needs of the businesses and the students,” Mead said. “My experience is that juniors and seniors aren’t really aware of some of the technical jobs out there.”


Four school districts in Greater Des Moines recently have formed a committee to begin looking at high school courses that could be shared among those districts, said Gary McClanahan, director of Central Campus. The Des Moines school currently provides training to 2,200 students through agreements with 28 school districts in addition to the Des Moines Independent Community School District, which operates Central Campus.

“It would involve sharing the courses that we offer and they don’t, or two districts close together possibly sharing courses,” he said. “It’s really at the beginning stages. We’ve just looked at all the courses that could be offered at all these districts.”

West Des Moines, Des Moines, Southeast Polk and Urbandale are the four districts in discussions, and Waukee has expressed an interest, McClanahan said.

Central Campus evolved from Des Moines Technical High School in the mid-1980s to offer programs that would be too costly to duplicate at the five comprehensive high schools in Des Moines. It also offers programs that wouldn’t draw sufficient enrollment at one school, such as Advanced Placement classes and instruction in less-popular foreign languages.

Five years ago, Central Campus entered into a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College to offer 28 separate career area programs, from aviation to marine biology.

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