BLAIR, Neb. — Two years after Dana College closed its doors, the campus appears poised to be reborn as an institute for environmental efficiency.
According to a proposal outlined Tuesday night for the Blair City Council by the potential buyer, the campus would become Renewable Nations Institute at Dana College and begin classes in the fall.
Allan E. Baer, director of the institute, said students would work 20 hours a week and spend 30 additional hours a week in classes, seminars, workshops and conferences. (He is no relation to the Baer family that founded the former J.L. Brandeis & Sons department stores in Omaha.)
It was an informational session for the council, which took no action on the proposal.
For 126 years, Dana College was a small Lutheran liberal arts college. The school, about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, abruptly closed in July 2010 due to financial difficulties.
The institute would begin by offering a two-year program but would not immediately be a degree-granting or accredited academic institution, Baer said.
Instead, it would offer paid on-campus internships while training students to provide technical assistance to small companies seeking to reduce their carbon footprints. Accreditation would come later.
Mark Wagner, the court-appointed receiver for Dana, was at the meeting.
He said the sale price of the property has been listed at $5.9 million, but he declined to say whether the institute's purchase proposal is north or south of that mark.
Wagner said he is at the "show me the money" stage. "We've worked hard on this project for about three months, and now we're ready for something to happen," he said.
Baer said the institute has been approved for funding by the Clinton Global Initiative Foundation. Additional money of about $18 million for campus renovations might be raised by issuing bonds for which the buyer, not the city, would assume risk.
The institute would use "every square inch of the campus," Baer said, although the library and athletic facilities would likely be shared with the community.
Baer said he already has been promoting the idea of an institute that serves smaller companies and has a waiting list of potential students. He expects to start with at least 400 students and 70 to 75 faculty members.
"We're ready to start recruiting hard over the next two months," Baer said. "There are a lot of students out there who are unemployed or underemployed and are interested in training for this field."
Baer is a former contractor who specialized in solar energy. He said his 31 years of work in the field of renewable energy, including eight years on a United Nations project that brought electricity to the Galapagos Islands, has prepared him to lead the institute.
"This is a vision that has taken me decades to realize," Baer told nearly 100 residents of Blair. "We've evaluated about eight campuses, but the cost-benefits of locating here far outweigh the other places."
Baer said the Renewable Nations Institute would play a large role in the U.S. Department of Energy's stated goal of lowering industrial energy use by 25 percent by 2017.
The Renewable Nations Institute services would pick up where the Department of Energy's Industrial Assessment Centers at 26 major universities leaves off.
Schools such as the University of Massachusetts, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M send engineers out to evaluate energy use at small companies and make recommendations.
About 50 percent of the time, the recommendations are not adopted because the companies have trouble coming up with a plan to make the changes.
"The institute would provide all the services that those engineering schools are not doing today," Baer said. "We would package the financing, the management, the IT service practices and all the other things that the companies need to make those recommendations work."
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