Greenfield-Central High School students Lee Paschal, left, and Brock Thomas work in an HVAC class in 2019. Hancock County leaders want to continue improving access to vocational education, with the ultimate goal of creating a stand-alone career center in the county. Daily Reporter file photo
Greenfield-Central High School students Lee Paschal, left, and Brock Thomas work in an HVAC class in 2019. Hancock County leaders want to continue improving access to vocational education, with the ultimate goal of creating a stand-alone career center in the county. Daily Reporter file photo
HANCOCK COUNTY – Officials plan to commit $250,000 more toward the creation of an education and training facility in the county.

Efforts toward that end now include homing in on a site and price tag with hopes of opening the building in the next couple years.

Known as the Hancock County Innovation and Education center, the facility is envisioned to serve students in ninth grade through post high school seeking career and technical education. Space for employers to provide training to their workforces and a conference center are also part of the project’s vision.

Involved in the efforts are the county’s four school corporations, whose students currently have some career and technical education opportunities on their respective campuses but also have to travel to career centers in Indianapolis and New Castle.

Hancock County government leaders, members of the private sector, Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University are also involved.

A 14-member steering committee is working with The Veridus Group, an Indianapolis-based firm that helps clients facilitate projects like the innovation and education center. The firm worked on a similar project called [email protected] in Hendricks County.

“We’re at that point now where we need a little bit more money to spend to keep the design moving, to keep the land acquisition moving, to keep these things pushing forward,” Tim Jensen, president of The Veridus Group, told the Hancock County Council earlier this month.

The council voted unanimously in favor of $125,000 toward the initiative. Members intend to take it from the $500,000 in emergency funds recently designated for relocating the county prosecutor’s office after black mold was discovered in its building. Hancock County Commissioners President John Jessup thinks $350,000 at most will be needed to handle the emergency.

The Hancock County Redevelopment Commission plans to approve $125,000 toward the innovation and education center next year from funds budgeted for education purposes. The redevelopment commission oversees the county’s tax increment financing districts, which capture tax funds from new development.

The $250,000 will follow $100,000 the county council allocated to the initiative earlier this year. A region that includes Hancock County awarded $1.4 million of the $5 million it got from Indiana’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI.

Efforts toward the innovation and education center also include a $50,000 private match. The Veridus Group is contributing $10,000, Hancock Health is contributing $10,000 as well and will work to help raise the remainder. Jensen said other grant opportunities are also being pursued.

The steering committee identified about 20 potential sites for the facility, 12 of which were reviewed. Jensen said The Veridus Group looked at distances to Hancock County schools, proximity to road access and interchanges, size, utility availability, whether the land was for sale and other factors. The steering committee narrowed the list down to a top five before settling on the area near CR 300N and CR 200W. Jensen noted it’s near ongoing and planned development, a potential future I-70 interchange and where NineStar Connect is preparing to bring wastewater infrastructure.

“We think this is the location,” Jensen told the Hancock County Commissioners earlier this month. “I can tell you the steering committee is actively engaged in conversations with a developer in that area on three different parcels to see what that would look like. We haven’t selected anything yet, we’re just looking at that and we’ll bring that back to this board when that time comes.”

Jensen anticipates the building will need to be 125,000 to 140,000 square feet, putting it at an estimated cost ranging from about $45 million to $63 million. The project could be phased to make it more palatable, he continued, adding a first phase of under 100,000 square feet would bring the estimated cost down to about $38 million to $45 million.

Hancock County Commissioner Marc Huber hopes the county will fund the bulk of the capital costs, noting the project has been pondered for over a decade.

“There’s more momentum now than there’s ever been,” Huber said. “There’s probably more grant money available out there than there probably ever has been or will be. The county is in a lot stronger financial shape than it’s ever been in. I like the ask for $250,000, but my opinion is I would be asking for $40 million. Because, let’s face it, if the county does not take a strong stance in support of this project, it will probably die.”

Jessup agreed, pointing to the public funds resulting from the building surge in the western part of the county.

“All the development that we’ve done out there is leading towards this – creating a blank checkbook that we can bond against,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, let’s be done.”

Jensen said the goal is for the innovation and education center to open in fall 2025, which means construction would need to start next year. He added school corporations are working to start programs so that if the building is finished in 2025, they can move in fully functional.

Operational costs for the facility are estimated at $750,000 to $900,000 a year. Jensen anticipates the county won’t have to contribute to those, adding he thinks it can be accomplished through leases, program fees and contributions from ongoing partners.
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