Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) plans to open its newest learning center in Sister Bay in January of 2018.
The center, a former Nicolet National Bank branch that was purchased by NWTC, is officially named the Learning and Innovation Center (LIC) in Partnership with Nicolet Bank. Since Nicolet National Bank has been a major financial contributor to the NWTC Educational Foundation, Inc., NWTC is recognizing their significant philanthropic support by offering facility-naming recognition.
Officials originally hoped to have the center open this spring, but Jan Scoville, Dean of Regional Learning in Marinette, said they now hope to hire a manager for the center by Sept. 1 and begin renovations.
Scoville said the center was developed specifically to meet the needs identified by residents of Northern Door.
“This is not like anything else that NWTC has done before, and to the best of our knowledge, nobody else is doing this type of center,” Scoville said. “We have looked at different examples of fab labs, makerspaces, and kitchens, but this is a hybrid of all of those. It really is a unique project aimed at serving the specific needs of a very unique community.”
This includes training services in accounting, marketing and business management, but also services specific to the restaurant industry. The LIC will include a commercial kitchen with a culinary training space that would also include restaurant service classes.
NWTC has worked with Mary Pat Carlson, founder of the now-closed Algoma Farm Market Kitchen, to design the space to double as a state-certified processing kitchen that local growers and producers can use without having to individually invest in a costly commercial kitchen.
Liberty Grove Town Chairm John Lowry said that has been high on the list of his constituents for years.
“This could really help some small businesses get off the ground or expand,” Lowry said.
“We have several processors who have been involved in the planning process,” Scoville said. “It really has been our top priority to get that kitchen in the plan.”
The NWTC system is comprised of 16 colleges and regional learning centers serving parts of nine counties and 32 K-12 school districts. In 2015-16, Liberty Grove property taxpayers contributed $719,083 to NWTC, $149,058 more than any other municipality in Door County. Only the cities of Green Bay and De Pere and their surrounding villages contributed more.
For years elected officials in northern Door County, where residents are at least 45 minutes from an NWTC campus, have complained that the system does not do enough to provide educational opportunities to the community that provides so much of its tax base. Scoville said the LIC is a major step toward bridging that service gap.
“This innovation center is a response to that,” she said. “We do want to make sure that our residents are served well. Engaging our community is a high priority, and I think this center is changing attitudes about that.”
In a community where the median age is 65, Scoville said older adult education is also a priority. This could include basic computer, tablet and other technology classes.
An Innovation Lab will include work space for people who want to use high-tech software and experiment with 3-D design.
“The early build-out of that space will be fairly simple,” she said. “We hope to have some high-tech equipment in there, and a 3-D printer, and do some programming around that. We also want to invite youth into that space to try to get young people excited about STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], and about robotics and electronics.”
NWTC has hosted a number of community input sessions and is now in the programming phase of the project, with requests for construction proposals going out soon.