OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa school district is looking at expanding its Career and Technical Education Program (CTE), and administrators think the old Market on Main building is just the place for it.
“I believe obtaining this building will benefit this district,” said Superintendent Mike McGrory during his recommendation to the board to consider purchasing the building.
“First, it will provide additional career educational opportunities and enable students to connect to more concurrent college enrollment options,” he said. “Secondly, it will provide the district and students additional ways to connect with businesses and community members. These school-community business partnerships would greatly benefit our students.”
McGrory also said the expansion would be a draw for people considering a move to the district. “The unique programming offering to students would set us apart from other districts and potentially be a draw for families to come to our district,” he said.
And, with a focus on college and career readiness, students who go into the workforce directly from high school would be better prepared to be successful in the workforce, he said. It would also be a space the district could use 24/7 throughout the year for “things beyond academics,” such as a space for student clubs and organizations to meet as well as hosting events and banquets.
“Lastly, this building could become a cornerstone of the community. The location is a hub for the downtown and one of the busiest intersections in Ottumwa,” McGrory said. Plus, it’s located close to the high school.
Program expansion opportunities would be implemented in a variety of strands, said Marci Dunlap, secondary education director for the district. “When we talk about increasing programming, we’re really talking about expansion of student opportunity,” she said. Possibilities include career and 21st century courses, an entrepreneurship strand, a work-based learning hub and video and media production.
The program also involves looking into the regional labor market and its needs and implementing programming based on that. Some of those areas include computer science, a field where there are classes at Evans Middle School but not OHS; hospitality and management, a chance for the Bulldog Café to expand and serve the pulbic while getting experience in a commercial kitchen; pre-education; and an enhanced design program. Some of these would be implemented in the program’s second year rather than right off the bat in 2021-22.
“The idea would be for us to broaden the reach of that through our CTE programming so more kids could actually earn certification through Indian Hills,” Dunlap said. “One of the aspects I’m most excited about is developing a work-based learning hub. When we think of work-based learning, it really needs to be a variety of things.”
She said students will often tell her they want to go into business, but it’s a broad category. A program like this would allow students to sit down and work with people in different types of businesses to focus the student’s goals.
“The expansion opportunity would be having a location and a space where we could collaborate more regularly with our community members who really do have the expertise that we’re looking for for our kids,” Dunlap said.
Several of the strands also feed directly into IHCC programs, and they have the potential to save families money.
“College is expensive, and training is necessary,” said Dunlap. “If we can find ways to integrate authentic, relevant, high-level programming where kids feel empowered to actually do and be while they’re earning college credits, we’re actually doing a service to our families in the district by saving them money.”
Jeff Kirby, director of innovative programs, said the Market on Main building is a space that has a lot to offer the program. “When you think about that facility, it really lends itself to a dynamic learning environment,” he said. “It is the cornerstone of downtown Ottumwa. It really lends itself to the school district being able to provide a place to be able to provide some dynamite services and really be a hub for our community and students.
The building would be utilized in several different ways, he said. It would provide a storefront for the Bulldog Café as well as Bulldog merchandise; it offers a commercial kitchen for students to use; it could be used as a teaching kitchen as well as a coffee and pastry bar to serve the community in the morning hours; classroom and lab space would be developed; and it would house a business incubator.
And, he said, it has the potential for general use beyond education such as for banquets, summer and STEM camps, club and student organization meetings, career center activities and provide community connections.
Kirby said he sees the center opening up for the 2021-22 school year. While the structure is sound, there is some work that would need to be done to conform the space to the district’s needs.
At the end of the school board meeting, the board broke into two closed sessions, one of which was to address real estate matters.
“When I talk about increasing our career opportunities for our students, it really does give me goosebumps,” Dunlap said. “It matters to me because I really believe all our students should be prepared for their futures, and that means we have to give them the opportunity to really seek things out and try it on, see if it fits right and see if it’s something they want to literally be when they grow up.”