Waterloo community college expanding adult learning space

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A community college in Waterloo is working on a project that will help refugees as they settle into eastern Iowa. The goal is to make the transition easier by increasing the opportunities to learn English and other necessary skills.

Students and staff at Hawkeye Community College sign support beams at the school's new urban Adult Learning Center in Waterloo. School officials say the influx of refugees and immigrants to Waterloo in recent years is fueling demand for English as a second language classes and other instruction. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)

Hawkeye Community College hopes to open a new Adult Learning Center near downtown Waterloo late next summer.

When finished, the nearly $9-million dollar facility will have room for up to 4,000 students a year and feature a childcare center, community meeting space and a coffee shop.

And based on current demand, school officials say they’re definitely going to need the extra space.

Adult Learning Center director Sandy Jensen has seen that growth personally.

In the 1990s, there was only one English as a second language class a day. She taught it.

Currently, the average number of English language classes is about 20 per day.

Hawkeye Community College is providing learning opportunities for adult students from about 40 countries speaking 50 different languages.

The current urban center is a converted bank and Jensen says there’s really no room for growth.

“The classrooms will be designed as classrooms and they’ll have 21st century technology so students can learn skills that will carry them into the future,” she said.

A number of students, staff and community leaders gathered at the construction site Tuesday for a beam signing ceremony. The event marked about the halfway point of the project.

One student, Richard Manoka who immigrated from the Congo, says he’s excited for the new facility that will help him reach his goals.

“To get a good job, to continue my education and go to college—for me, it’s very important,” Manoka said.

Immigrants who have come to Waterloo account for a good portion of the increased demand for adult education classes. But Hawkeye President Linda Allen says another reason for the expansion is to meet demand from students who never finished high school and want to complete their secondary education.

“At this new center, we’ll be able to do everything we do at our small urban campus now but double the number. We’ll offer technical training as well so these students can go from English language to a new career at one center,” she said.

This is the first new construction project for Hawkeye outside the main campus south of Waterloo.

The school is using a portion of a $25-million dollar bond vote overwhelmingly approved by voters almost three years ago.