Baer plans prayer circle at Dana
Allan Baer, who has proposed the Renewable Nations Institute at Dana College, has scheduled a prayer circle in the Dana chapel at 3 p.m. Sunday. It will be a Quaker-style service open to all denominations. He estimates a capacity of about 50 people can fit inside.
If the building can't be accessed, the service will be moved outside. In the case of inclement weather, Baer said he would find another location.
Allan Baer says his first experience presenting his plan for the former Dana College was not a "failure."
"I decided it was too risky to accept the financing," said Baer, a Vermont resident whose vision for the Renewable Nations Institute at Dana College (RNI) didn't wane with his decision to back away from a $5.9 purchase agreement for the campus in 2012.
Now, Baer is back. In fact, he's been working out of Omaha since October, and claims to have a confidentiality agreement with Midland University under SolarQuest L3C, of which he is president. He has conducted An independent study to assess the viability of restoring the campus, including three visits with a professional estimating team to inspect facilities.
Baer attended the Blair City Council meeting on Tuesday night and visited with city officials Wednesday afternoon.
"I knew there would be a day I would be back in the community," he told the Enterprise on Wednesday. "I can restore a campus. I've always been a good contractor. But you know, where's the soul? Where's the heart of the community?"
About Allan Baer
President of Renewable Nations Institute since March 2012
Owner of SolarQuest since 1998
Established Omaha office in October
Plans for Renewable Nations Institute at Dana College
Seeks to provide an integrated set of "commitments" and "deliverables" in enabling action areas in energy planning and policies and in capacity building and knowledge sharing for the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative
Intends to acquire partners in "legacy" colleges so RNI can pursue accreditation
Would seek bond issue from City of Blair to demonstrate local support for campus
Wants to engage Dana alumni and residents to gauge interest and desires for the use of the campus
Baer's RNI is a program of his SolarQuest L3C and The Global Challenge Award Inc., a federally registered, nonprofit corporation. The proposed program is partially modeled after the Industry Assessments Centers (IAC) program of the U.S. Department of Energy. According to the RNI website, at participating IACs, "faculty and staff lead students in the performance of energy assessments for small- and medium-sized manufacturers in their geographic region with the goal to identify opportunities for energy savings, waste reduction and improvements in both corporate sustainability and productivity."
"It's about earth stewardship," Baer said. "For 126 years, Dana has been about stewardship, but in Christian values. My shift is in earth stewardship, but no less Christian in its values."
In an open letter on his website to Dana alumni and Blair and Omaha metro residents, Baer asks that they examine his revised plan for RNI.
Baer said he was not surprised by Midland's announcement.
"I expected that from the day they announced it," he said. Baer doesn't blame Midland, which he believes has some good programs, for not succeeding at Dana. Industry demands and trends in higher education are changing, he said.
Baer explained that he has spent several years tracking 50 bankrupted, vacant colleges, has surveyed eight of them and has been under contract with four of them. None of those contracts, which include Dana, have panned out.
Out of the 50 schools Baer tracked, "None of them came back as a college," he said. "Generally, when campuses fail, they don't come back."
Baer said he does not believe any of the other entities that have shown interest in the Dana campus have been "serious" contenders. He claims he has been in talks with potential stakeholders and investors, as well as colleges and universities, since October. Baer wants "legacy partners" — established colleges — to collaborate with RNI.
"There are legacies right now that want to partner," he said. "The financial backers I'm talking about now are local."
Baer had signed a purchase agreement in early April 2012 to buy the campus for $5.9 million. In February 2012, the Blair City Council gave preliminary approval to a resolution that would allow for the issuance of up to $25 million in tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds to help in the purchase and development of the campus. City officials said the resolution did not obligate the city to pay back the bonds if the venture fell through.
"I've been told I had a lack of credibility," Baer said of his first attempt. He attributes some of the negative feedback to his lack of understanding about "the process of mourning for an institution."
"That was really a barrier to what people were perceiving," he said. "There was anger I had to deal with. I don't think it had anything to do with me; they have every right to feel that loss."
Baer said that he is dismayed at the toll the 2014 hailstorm and the continued neglect have taken on the campus. He believes that this summer is "the nail in the coffin" for Dana because of the condition of the buildings.
"There's an emergency on that hill," Baer said.
How is Renewable Nations Institute being received by the Blair community this time around? How much does RNI estimate it would cost to make the campus operational? What academic programs would be offered? Learn more in our ongoing coverage in the March 29 Pilot-Tribune.