Gateway seeks $49 million for expansion
ELKHORN The welding lab at Gateway Technical College today is crowded with equipment, training bays and wires hanging from the ceiling.
Still, Dean Michael O'Donnell says classes are full each semester.
If voters in Walworth County and two other counties approve a referendum on the April 2 ballot, O'Donnell said the college could build a larger teaching facility to provide students with the skills they need to find jobs.
The welding lab is one example of programs at Gateway's three campuses that officials say would be improved if voters pass a $49 million bond referendum on the ballot in Walworth, Racine and Kenosha counties.
Doing so will let the college expand and renovate its facilities and improve technical training programs to meet what O'Donnell calls a skills gap between what jobs require and what potential employees know.
"We're trying to put the resources on this campus to address that specific need," O'Donnell said. "This referendum will jump start a lot of what we need to offer the community."
The measure would increase annual property taxes by $9.73 per $100,000 of assessed value.
All three counties would have to approve the measure for it to pass.
At the Elkhorn campus,
O'Donnell said the college would be able to improve education in manufacturing, welding and computer numeric control to help address the skills gap.
"There's all these jobs out there, but there's nobody that's trained to do those jobs," he said.
Upgrades in Elkhorn would include renovating and expanding what O'Donnell said is an outdated campus building. With the new space, the school could then add veterinary technician, cosmetology, culinary and food quality technician programs, he said.
O'Donnell said residents and law enforcement agencies in all three counties also would benefit from a new public safety training center that would be funded via the referendum.
Gateway estimates work could start as soon as July on renovations, expansions and new programs if the measure passes. Before that happens, however, Gateway will have to convince voters the project is worth the annual hit on their property tax bills.
There does not appear to be any organized opposition to the referendum, and school officials said they have not received much negative feedback at public listening sessions. Still, there have been letters to the editors of some local newspapers criticizing the tax increase.
"Obviously, nobody likes to pay higher taxes," O'Donnell said.
The college is hoping it can show the value that will come back to the community.
Students could get training, find jobs and stay in the county rather than look elsewhere for work if the measure passes, O'Donnell said.
In exchange, O'Donnell compared the average property tax increase to the cost of a couple lattes at Starbucks.
"We're asking the community to basically invest in Gateway for its own future prosperity," he said. "The payoff will certainly come in the years to come to have these jobs filled."