Blair people are excited about what some are calling a second chance for the community to have a college and bring back the vitality of having college students once again in Blair.
Midland University officials this week announced plans to buy the former Dana College campus and return it to a college with the target of opening it by August 2015.
“I think the sale is better than anything we could have hoped for,” said Milt Heinrich, who had taught art at Dana for more than 35 years. “I think it can help heal the loss of Dana. I think it makes the best use out of the facility, but most important, it gives wholeness back to the community.”
“We live just over the hill,” Heinrich said. “I pass by there every day and to see it without kids just tears my heart out.”
Midlands officials have said that they will need the community’s and alumni’s help to fund the needed repairs and renovation to restore the college. Will Midland get this support?
“I certainly would hope so,” Heinrich said. A number of people had indicated after the college closed that had they known it was closing, they would have stepped in to help, he said.
“This is a second chance and I hope with all my heart the community gets behind this,” Heinrich said.
People have been stopping Harriet Waite on the street and commenting on how the college opening again will help them in the community. The Blair Area Chamber of Commerce executive director said it’s exciting news.
“The jobs students take in the town and the spending power of students,” are some of the big benefits, Waite said. “The vitality of having college students once again, I think that’s what I’ve missed the most.”
The cultural events a college brings to the community is another thing that have really been missed, she said, as well as having a place to have events.
Because Blair High School is not available this summer for Gateway to the West activities, Waite said she’s looking forward to having events up at the college again this year, arranged through permission of the receiver.
“College students bring you another volunteer base,” Waite said. “Anything you needed a few volunteers for, some team would step up to the plate and do something.”
Students coming to Blair would be a shot in the arm to local businesses and organizations.
When Dana College closed, the Blair Family YMCA lost about 10 percent of its membership revenue, said Sandra Ellis, YMCA chief executive officer.
“That was a huge thing to overcome,” Ellis said.
“We lost a lot of our employees,” she said and that was hard, especially when it came to staffing part-time jobs during the day, including lifeguards.
While the reopening of the college would benefit the YMCA, students would also benefit from the Y, she said.
“There would be potential for internships or volunteer opportunities for students in their field of study,” Ellis said. Students could work in youth sports programs and the child development center.
Those partnerships between a college right in the town and the community’s public schools are important as well, said Karen Gengenbach, director of school counseling for the Blair Community Schools. She said she was superexcited to hear the news.
Besides dual enrollment opportunities, Blair students had enjoyed a myriad of music and theater opportunities at the college. Dana students had the opportunity of working in the local schools.
“We really think highly of Midland,” Gengenbach said. Midland has been an outstanding place for kids looking at a smaller private college, has awarded generous scholarships and many Blair students have gone there, she said.
“But just having it right here in the town is going to make a difference,” she said.
Local restaurants would also see more workers and customers coming in if the college reopened, and more calls for food to be delivered up the hill.
“It would be very good for the community,” said Keith Hartvigsen, owner of Pizza Hut in Blair. “It is a great facility that needs to be used. It should bring professionals to town and students who may end up staying and becoming part of the community.”
“We always had a portion of our crew who were college students,” he said, estimating that 15-20 percent of the workers were in college. College students tended to work on Friday nights when high school students were busy.
Hartvigsen said he lives about six houses down from the campus on 28th and there never was much noise or traffic in his area.
“When it closed up, we saw deer and turkeys walking across campus that didn’t used to be there before. We saw a different kind of wildlife.”
Everyone he has talked to has been positive about the possibility of a college returning.
“It’s just got to be good for the community to get this area active and revitalized,” Hartvigsen said.
Blair High School nurse Dana Crispin, who lives at the top of College Drive, was excited to hear that students may be returning.
“It’s such a beautiful campus. It would be nice to drive by and see students there again.”
“I went to Midland and had a wonderful experience there,” Crispin said, who earned a BSN there. “The thought of them coming to Blair is awesome.”
She said her co-workers at BHS Wednesday were talking about how great that would be to have the college back.