DECATUR — A coalition of local agencies wants to begin hosting adult education classes at the Decatur Public Library by the end of the year.
The partnership between Workforce Investment Solutions and Richland Community College would offer classes ranging from HSE/GED preparation classes, “bridge classes” to improve students basic skills before transitioning to college, and job training programs. All classes would be free thanks to a three-year state and federal grant to cover costs.
The programs are not replacing existing ones offered by Richland or Workforce, and are instead seen as a way to offer additional services in a convenient location.
“It’s going to be a great benefit having it downtown for the students,” said Jeff Davison, director of Richland’s adult education office.
The plan still needs approval from the Decatur City Council before it can go forward. The council is expected to discuss it Nov. 6.
The classes would take up two rooms and open floor space on the first floor of the library in the area where the history room once was before recent renovations.
Money will come from the Illinois Community College Board Adult Education and Literacy Grant program. How much they will receive remains to be seen, though Davison said they have been promised no less than $285,000 and no more than the $455,000 asked for in the original grant application. Workforce will pay an annual rent of $1,500 for the space.
Officials like Davison and Workforce Director Rocki Wilkerson said the downtown space is especially important for the program to succeed. With the library’s centralized location and closeness of the Decatur bus station, Davison said the library set-up would help address one of the largest concerns he has heard from those interested in the services currently provided at Richland.
“One of the big barriers we find on campus is our location, specifically for those without vehicles,” he said. “It can take a person up to an hour just to get here, and then another hour to go back after class. It’s going to be a great benefit having it downtown for the students.”
Talk of offering the services started earlier this year, but city Librarian Rick Meyer said he has heard from residents since he first interviewed for the position in early 2014 about how the library could increase workforce development in the community.
Once he and Wilkerson started to talk about the opportunity to host the program, Meyer said it matched up well with what he and others in the community have wanted to see.
“This is a need that we’ve identified in a number of ways, through focus groups, surveys, community retreats and through internal staff surveys,” he said. “We saw it as a need, and this fits well with what we consider our core mission, which is learning.”
Meyer said the city has been supportive of the plan. He said assistant City Manager Billy Tyus has been involved in past discussions; and Meyer noted that city Treasurer and Finance Director Gregg Zientara also serves on the library board, which voted to approve the sublease of the space to Workforce during its September meeting.
Tyus, as well as city Manager Tim Gleason, did not return a message seeking comment.
If everything does go through, Wilkerson said she seems the program as another step toward providing more qualified candidates for local employers.
“If we get all these pipelines, we should be able to cultivate a pool of employees, and that’s what the employers need,” Wilkerson said. “They want people ready to go, and that’s where I hope we can develop this foundation for a place for people to start.”