BLAIR, Neb. — A 2˝-hour meeting to discuss the energy efficiency institute being proposed for the former Dana College campus turned into a community pep rally Tuesday night.
"We still think of ourselves as college town, and I heard enough good things tonight to think we will stay a college town," said Blair resident Barbara Wright. "Dana College always had an impact on this city's culture, and tonight we heard some tremendous ideas for that to continue."
About 150 people turned out for the meeting with Allan E. Baer in the Forum at the Durham Classroom Center on campus. Baer outlined his ideas for the Renewable Nations Institute at Dana College and then took about 30 minutes of questions.
"The concepts are a lot to absorb, but he did a good job with his presentation," said Chuck Jorgensen, a 1965 graduate of Dana College and a former trigonometry teacher at Blair High. "I'm just very interested in seeing this campus continue as an educational institution, rather than see it go to auction and become a prison or something else."
Baer has signed a purchase agreement to buy the 150-acre campus for $5.9 million. He told his audience that the institute would expand the Industrial Assessment Center program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and offered at 24 universities.
When the purchase is complete in 30 to 60 days, Baer said, he will begin to lean on an advisory committee of Blair residents and Dana College alumni to help guide the institute.
"We may meet once a year or semiannually, but I know that this institution will not succeed unless I have a local understanding of the community," Baer said.
Kathy Shaw, a 1963 graduate of Dana College, said she signed up for the advisory committee.
"I am very excited just thinking of the vision (Baer) has for this campus," Shaw said. "The time for these (energy efficiency) studies is now, and Blair can play an important role."
Dana College closed in 2010 under the weight of $11 million in debt. The Blair City Council has given preliminary approval to issue tax-exempt development revenue bonds not to exceed $25 million for the institute.
Many people wanted to know how fast Baer could get the institute rolling. The Chelsea, Vt., resident said he could have as many as 400 students on campus by the fall, but be would settle for "a small core" of students if it got the institute going.
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