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WATERLOO CAREER CENTER: $17.5 million renovation project nears finish line

WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – The school year is just a few weeks away, and some Waterloo high school students will soon be learning in a newly renovated building.

The Waterloo Career Center is getting a $17.5 million makeover.

Over the last few years, the school district has been saving money for the project. They’re paying for the improvements with Iowa’s Secure and Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) tax. The penny sales tax is used for statewide facility and infrastructure projects.

The center is connected to Central Middle School, although there will be two separate entrances. The building was originally constructed as a high school in 1972, intended for more than 1,000 students. But when the city’s population dipped after the farm crisis, the building was converted to Central Middle School.

District leaders said the space was too big for 400 middle school students. In 2016, they decided to use half of the building to house the Waterloo Career Center.

Renovations began in January of 2018. The center now has a new culinary kitchen, comfortable seating, specialty labs, inviting study spaces, taller ceilings and new equipment.

Crews are finishing last-minute touches, but the new center should be ready to go at the start of the school year.

“We wanted kids to come here and to feel like they were at work – to experience what it will be like when they leave high school,” Waterloo Superintendent Dr. Jane Lindaman said. “So really, it’s about transitioning from high school to life after high school, whether that’s college or career.”

The Career Center has different career and technical education paths students can take. They include: manufacturing, culinary/hospitality, digital graphics, digital interactive media, education, electrical trades, finance, nursing, information technology, marketing, plumbing, construction and design and web programming.

The center gives students the chance to explore areas or professions they’d like to pursue in the future. District leaders believe their students will have a competitive edge when they leave high school.

Waterloo West, East and Expo students can take a bus to the center throughout the school day. Many of them are upperclassmen.

Right now, Waterloo has partnerships with other school districts in the area. Students from Cedar Falls, Hudson Dike and New Hartford can also take classes at the center.

The courses are free. Students can receive college credit for them, too. District leaders said students will learn from teachers with industry experience. They turn to businesses in the community to make sure their curriculum is relevant.

“You should be so proud of what our students and the opportunities that they have right here in this industry-ready, authentic learning environment,” Dr. Lindaman said. “So it’s really a great thing for Waterloo. It’s huge.”

When the center first launched in 2016, only about three dozen students were enrolled. This fall, they’re expecting about 1,000.

For more information about the center, check out their Facebook page.

Olivia Schmitt

Weekend Anchor

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