The hot summer months are called the "dog days of summer."

Indian Hills Community College President Matt Thompson knows it well, but the reward could be too great to ignore.

Thompson continues to try to persuade voters, businesses and other groups on a proposed $34.6 million initiative to improve the college's Centerville and Ottumwa campuses. However, through diligent fundraising and donations, he's optimistic he can take $28 million to the voters with a bond referendum on the ballot in November.

For now, though, the selling of the "Proposed Campus Updates and Master Facilities Plan" continues throughout the college's 10-county region.

"I think it's just the importance of educating and reminding what the impact of Indian Hills is across the region," Thompson said of his travels. "It's about really trying to go everywhere, visiting with folks and trying to get into the public spaces where people are."

The college has begun printing marketing materials in support of the multi-campus project, but just recently it was able to get estimates regarding what the tax impact will be on the region's residents.

For example, with a $28 million bond referendum:

• Residential property taxes would increase between $1.15 on the low end ($10,000 property) to $23.04 (for a $200,000 property). There wouldn't be a double-digit increase in property tax rate until the assessment hits $100,000 ($11.52).

• Commercial/industrial property tax increases would start at $4.71 (for $25,000 assessed value), to $188.27 (for values over $1 million).

"There was a rumor back in 2016 (the last time the college tried a referendum) that it was going to be $1 per acre increase," Thompson said. "So we reached out to all 10 county assessors, and the potential increase would be 15 cents on average. I'm not a math guy, and identifying taxable valuation is not easy, but we will help any way we can.

"We've had some folks say, 'That's just not a number that scares us,'" he said. "The Farm Bureau meetings I've had are very productive. The name of the game is getting out and creating awareness. I want to keep it in the news."

The proposed improvements are impressive.

• The Centerville Educational Building would expand lab spaces for industrial maintenance, construction technology and agricultural sciences, as well as welding technology. There also would be updated classroom spaces for nursing, science and general education, more efficiency in food service, library and academic support services, and replacing existing temporary buildings built 50 years ago. In all, there would be 58,000 square feet of new construction.

• In Ottumwa, three major projects are included. There would be a Center for Fine Arts that would update and soundproof classrooms, establish dressing rooms and restrooms and showers for performers.

• The second part would be creating a Criminal Justice Training Center, moving the program to the North Campus, and would add an evidence lap, virtual reality training simulator and four classrooms.

The college recently was selected as a site to train reserve law enforcement officers.

"That is something law enforcement is really excited about. It's been neat to hear from the local sheriffs and police chiefs about how it's going to help them save money," Thompson said. "People have been saying, 'Hey, we've heard that you might try to become a regional law enforcement academy.' But we need to get this project done. It would be more local." 

• There also would be a Student Wellness Center built onto the Tom Arnold Net Center, and it would include multi-purpose courts, a weight and cardiovascular area, fitness classroom, etc.

• The project also would allow the college to link up with the high schools in the region by creating virtual classrooms, expanding concurrent enrollment course offerings and providing technology and equipment needs in each district.

Between Ottumwa and Centerville, there would be more than 100,000 square feet of either renovation or new construction. More importantly, expanded programs and more cutting-edge technology could keep students in the area to work for companies needing certain qualifications.

Surprisingly, Thompson has run into people who are not aware of the initiative.

"That's been one of the key learnings of this whole process," he said. "Some of the folks we'd expect to know didn't know about it the last time around. You put out mailers hoping people pay attention, but you really have to get directly to them.

"I've met with people and some have said they are directly against it," he said. "I've met with a number of those individuals just to say that I want them to know."

The measure will need 60% approval to pass. It's a high bar, but not insurmountable. Five years ago, it wasn't close to passing.

Thompson will continue his voyages throughout the region before starting to meet with more boards of supervisors and city councils in September.

"No matter what happens with this, whether we pass it or not, I've met people that I would not have met before by doing this," Thompson said.

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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