How Western referendum projects impact the Viroqua area
Published on Monday, October 01, 2012
On Nov. 6, voters in Western Technical College’s 11-county district, including Vernon County, will see a $79.8 million facilities referendum question on their election ballots. Although the referendum projects are on the La Crosse campus, college officials have been visiting with community groups to explain how technical college education impacts the entire region.
According to Western’s annual report, 42 percent of 2008 Westby High School grads came to Western within two years of graduation. And, 92% of all high school grads attending Western attend some classes at the La Crosse campus, especially in technology classes that involve costly equipment.
Further statistics indicate that education is paying off. A follow-up survey of Western graduates shows 93 percent are employed within six months of graduation, and 81 percent stay in the 7 Rivers Region to live and work.
“Those graduates are not just getting jobs here. They are getting promotions and pay raises over their careers,” explained Western President Lee Rasch. “In fact, after five years, our grads are reporting a 58 percent increase in their median salary. Our goal is to get more people into that pipeline. And, if they’re earning more while staying in the region, they will be contributing more to the local economy.”
The college hopes to serve 1,000 more students by 2020, which would be a 25% increase.
“To continue to prepare workers for high demand careers in areas such as engineering technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing, Western is looking to renovate and modernize our facilities,” said Rasch. “As the needs of area businesses change, Western also needs to change. But, we can’t do it without the help of our communities.”
Mike Pieper, vice president of finance and operations, said state funding for the college has dropped dramatically, operational levies are capped, and the third major source of funding, tuition, is set by the state.
“Technical colleges were created to respond to regional workforce demands,” explained Pieper. “We have to go to our local taxpayers when we need to make large facility improvements. Hopefully, they recognize the value of the college and trust our direction for the future.”
The referendum projects include three major building renovations and three smaller projects:
The Coleman Center, which was built in 1923 and hasn’t had major upgrades since 1971, would become a general studies center for students, including a growing number seeking transfer degree programs. Cost: $26.5 million.
The Kumm Center would become a science center with lab spaces for in-demand health careers and transfer sciences. Cost: $10.1 million.
The Industrial Technologies Center would become an advanced manufacturing center that brings all of the college’s manufacturing and building systems together. Cost: $32.6 million.
The remaining $10.6 million would cover an addition to the Diesel and Heavy Equipment training facility to meet needs of the growing transportation industry; a greenhouse that would be used by several programs, including Landscape Horticulture, Agri-business, and Culinary Management for organic growing; and a parking ramp to alleviate current parking issues and accommodate the projected enrollment increase.
For those who wish to get more information about the upcoming referendum, the college is hosting an information session at Western’s Viroqua location, 220 South Main St., on Thursday, Oct. 11, from 5:00-6:00 p.m. The public is invited to attend to learn more about Western’s Vision 2020 facilities plan, see renderings of the proposed renovations, and get answers to questions and concerns. Details can also be found online at www.westerntc.edu/referendum.