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Jobs drive Devils Lake campus needs

DEVILS LAKE -- The Lake Region State College campus is spreading around the city of Devils Lake -- but not by design or desire.

Several offices and outreach programs are being housed off campus -- at the North Dakota School for the Deaf and the former Twete Implement building just north of town -- to free up space for the school's growing nursing, peace officer, agriculture and other professional and technical programs.

College and local officials are lobbying in Bismarck for legislation that would provide $5.9 million to expand the school's Erlandson Technical Center, which was built in the late 1960s and expanded to 39,000 square feet in 1978.

Lake Region has not had a capital building project since then.

"It's very critical," Lake Region President Doug Darling said. "The programs we've got in that building are training students with the kinds of skills that are needed now in North Dakota, especially in western North Dakota."

The nursing program, for example, has had a waiting list of prospective students for the past six years.

"We're ready, willing and able to train more nurses. We need the space to do it," he said.

Competing bills

Two different versions of Senate Bill 2003 have passed in the Legislature. The Senate version contains the $5.9 million project.

The House version pools the Lake Region request with 13 others from around the state in a proposed $160 million capital projects funding pool, with individual funding decisions to be made later.

Lake Region first requested funding for the Erlandson project in the 2011 Legislature, but it was rejected.

Program growth

When Erlandson originally was expanded in 1978, it served four programs, with enrollment of about 130. Today, the Erlandson center is headquarters for six technical and professional programs with a combined enrollment of about 300.

Lake Region has graduated 114 registered nurses and 196 licensed practical nurses in the past decade. About 90 percent of them are working as nurses in North Dakota, the majority in rural areas, according to Erin Wood, LRSC marketing and communications director.

"We don't have facilities that look like the facilities they're going to be working in," Wood said. "We want them trained in the environment they're going to be working."

The school's peace officer training program has had 591 graduates since it started in 2002, with 82 percent of them working for 93 different law enforcement agencies in the state. Many of the remaining 18 percent are furthering their education elsewhere and will enter the workforce upon completion, she said.

The school also offers growing programs in wind energy technology, farm business management and precision agriculture, flight simulator maintenance and electronics.

Space needs

Most of those programs require large equipment, which the present building cannot accommodate, Darling said.

The School for the Deaf houses offices as well as other Lake Region offerings, including a regional office for the TrainND workforce training program, and a farm management outreach program.

School officials have found at least a temporary space for its Dakota Precision Ag Center, located in the former Twete Implement building just north of the city. Last fall, the school received a $3 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to operate a training program for employees of implement dealerships, agronomy centers, grain elevators, and more in computer, electronics, precision ag and customer service skills.

Overall, Lake Region has 1,880 students, including 461 full time, enrolled this spring. Besides the technical programs, the school also offers several associate degree and academic transfer degree programs.

"I feel good that we've demonstrated the need for it," Darling said. "The State Board (of Higher Education) and the chancellor have been supportive. But it's up to the Legislature, and they have a lot of requests."