United Way of St. Charles has committed $2.3 million to establish a college campus in St. Charles Parish and partnered with River Parishes Community College (RPCC) to operate it.
“We’re trying to bring a community college here,” said UW Executive Director John Dias. “We have a budget that should allow us to renovate or add on to an existing building or we can build on donated land, but we probably can’t quite buy land and build new.”
UW needs at least two acres of land and a 15,000 square foot building, Dias said. The decision is to buy, which it considers a more cost effective move that would protect “donor dollars” if the project isn’t successful.
Dias said they made offers on a couple of properties recently, including the Jerusalem Shrine Center in Destrehan although the Shriner board rejected the offer. He added the eight-acre site would have been optimum for the campus and other activities.
“We’ve got the partner,” he said. “We’re looking for the building.”
With the site and/or building secured, Dias said the planned campus would likely support up to 350 students.
“The community is saying to us in a big way, ‘We believe in you’ and we need to show the community in a big way what we are doing rather than doing incrementally more of what we do,” Dias said.
UW campaign goals have consistently set new yearly records with the latest campaign reaching $3.4 million.
Dias said he asked UW board member, Dow’s Brian Eiler, to lead an ad hoc “Million Dollar Idea Committee” and challenged members to answer one question: “If the UW invested $1 million what would it do?”
After some research and talking to people, the answer came: “We kept coming back to the idea that there are employers in St. Charles Parish who want trained people,” Dias said. “There are people in St. Charles Parish who want training, but there isn’t a full gambit of opportunities for that training here.”
“We will help educate people that will get high-paying jobs in the area. The companies that employ these folks are some of our largest UW supporters.” — Brian Ei
Eiler, also Dow’s production leader, called the project “a true circle of wins.”
“We will help educate people that will get high-paying jobs in the area,” he said. “The companies that employ these folks are some of our largest UW supporters. The employees themselves are big supporters and we believe the alumni from the school will become supporters of the very program that contributed to their success.”
Dias said the effort to fill the gap initially focused on scholarships, but they tended to be in male-dominated fields like welding and carpentry. Additionally, he said a number in the ALICE report – single women (working or not working) heading households that represented 70 percent of households at or below the poverty line – directed his attention toward broadening opportunities.
“We wanted to do more than that,” he said. “Somebody said it would be nice if we could offer all the things that the community college in Reserve offers so we met. Then someone blurted out at the meeting, ‘If we gave you a building in St. Charles Parish can you offer your full curriculum?’ They said ‘Yes.’”
This would expand opportunity to men, as well as women in trades like medical technician, accounting or nursing, Dias said.
The move would further assist UW’s industry partners, which are aware of their workforce needs and would participate in grooming a curriculum that could fill them.
Dias also emphasized no money would be diverted for this project from current UW programs.
He added, “We’re able to, fortunately, do both.”
UW’s “Million Dollar Idea”
- Established a partnership with River Parishes Community College in Reserve to start a campus in St. Charles Parish.
- UW dedicated $2.3 million to the project.
- Named Dow’s Brian Eiler to head the Million Dollar Idea Committee.