Western Technical College looking to move downtown
Published on Wednesday, January 06, 2010
For the past year, Western Technical College has been investigating the possibility of expanding its current facility in Black River Falls or relocating the campus to a more central location in the heart of downtown.
Representatives from Western have met with city officials and local business owners to discuss the future of the campus. According to Mike Pieper, Western’s vice president of finance and operations, it was determined that moving the campus downtown would be in the best interest of the community and the college.
“This decision was not entered into lightly,” explained Pieper. “Our current facilities are not adequate for the programming we need to offer. The addition of the nursing program and expanded business and industry services require more space.”
Sally Lister, the Jackson County representative who serves on Western Technical College’s District Board, agrees that the downtown location is mutually beneficial. “I often hear that people don’t even know Western has a campus in Black River Falls,” she said. “I believe a downtown campus would open up learning opportunities for more people in Jackson County.”
The success of Western’s other downtown campus locations, including those in La Crosse, Tomah, and Viroqua, has also been an important consideration in planning for the future.
“In 2007, we moved our Tomah campus downtown and since that time, we have expanded programming, developed new partnerships with downtown businesses, and experienced increased enrollment,” said Pieper.
In downtown Black River Falls, the site that most fits the needs of the college is the former IGA building, located at the corner of Fillmore and South First Streets. Western officials have been working with Reinhart Real Estate Group, Inc. on the possibility of acquiring the property.
“Our discussions have been encouraging, and we are excited about the possibility of moving into that location,” said Pieper. “It would be highly visible and easily accessible. It would also provide an ample number of parking spaces.”
“The proposed location is walkable for many, not to mention the positive impact it will have on surrounding businesses,” added Lister.
There are still a few steps that need to be taken before Western can make the move downtown. The first issue is the existing property at 808 Red Iron Road.
“We have determined that selling the current facility is probably the best option, but we may consider leasing out the property as well,” said Pieper. “We will be engaging a realty firm to put it on the market and get the word out to interested parties.”
The Western Foundation is also looking to supporters for financial contributions to help secure the downtown site. “We have generous donors who feel strongly about the mission of our technical college,” said Lynn Rudig, executive director of the Foundation.
Another option would be to pursue state grants and other funding sources. If enough funds are raised, the college can move forward with the purchase of the new facility with or without selling the current site.
“We’re hoping to be able to secure the new site by spring,” said Pieper. “It all depends on the amount of support we receive. But, we are confident that this will be a good move for us and another step toward revitalizing downtown Black River Falls.”