Grand Forks Career Impact Academy proponents seek state legislative support to move project forward
Progress has been stymied by federal government’s delay in releasing funds
EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written as an advance piece for the Herald's "Growth and Progress" section. As this edition went to press, there was some movement in the Legislature to push forward a proposal to free up funds for Grand Forks' Career Impact Academy.
GRAND FORKS – While proponents are anxious to move forward with plans for the Career Impact Academy, they have hit a roadblock that they hope action by the state Legislature will overcome.
Federal funds that have been approved for the project have not been released by the Department of Treasury, and there have been no updates as to when those funds will be coming to the state, said Eric Ripley, executive director of career and technical education and technology for Grand Forks Public Schools.
In the meantime, construction costs continue to rise and inflation is being added into the Career Impact Academy and similar career and technical education (CTE) projects throughout the state, Ripley said.
“Building costs are much higher today than they were, let’s just say, two years ago,” he said.
What started out as a plan for a $20 million Career Impact Academy building has grown to an estimated $28 million project.
Project leaders are hopeful that, given delays in the release of federal funding, the Legislature will step in and permit the state to borrow from the Bank of North Dakota to allow the projects to go forward. The 2023 North Dakota legislative session began earlier this month.
Under House Bill 1199, the state would repay that loan when it receives the federal funds. Ripley believes there will be “wide support” for this bill, he said, noting he believes it will pass “quite easily”.
Another bill before the Legislature addresses the need for funds to cover the cost increases that have accrued since CTE project plans were submitted as part of the grant process. House Bill 1019, part of the CTE appropriations bill, would set aside $40 million to cover those cost increases. If approved, it could mean an additional $4.5 million for the Career Impact Academy project, Ripley said.
The timeline for construction of the Career Impact Academy in northwest Grand Forks – near the intersection of Gateway Drive and Interstate 29 – will depend on decisions made in the current session of the North Dakota Legislature, Ripley said.
“Where we’re at with the project is not much different than where we were at probably even a few months ago,” he said.
The Career Impact Academy is among 13 career and technical education projects statewide that are awaiting the federal funds to move forward. It is hoped that these projects will address the critical workforce shortages that are hampering the state’s economic growth.
For each project, local funds were raised to qualify for matching state funds of up to $10 million. In Grand Forks, $10 million in monetary and in-kind donations were raised; another $1 million was also raised.
The proposed Career Impact Academy will occupy land where the Grand Forks Inn and Suites – more commonly known as the Holiday Inn – once stood near Gateway Drive.
“The lot that has been donated by the city for this project is prepped and ready to go,” Ripley said. “Locally, we have been able to proceed with the items that we can while we wait for the funding to arrive, but once it does arrive, we’re excited to get started on this project.”
The architect for the project, JLG Architects of Grand Forks, has enlisted BNDRY (pronounced “boundary”) Studio, a Minneapolis architectural firm that specializes in career and technical education buildings, to support it, Ripley said.
Another firm, PCL/Community Contractors will provide guidance in the bidding process.
The Career Impact Academy is part of an effort to address workforce shortages in numerous sectors, including health care, technology, aviation and engineering. These shortages stifle the region’s economic growth and, ultimately, limit the ability of business and industry to attract and retain employees.
Programs that will be offered at the Career Impact Academy upon its opening are: automotive services, building trades, culinary arts, electronics, engineering and robotics, precision technologies, information technology, medical careers and aviation.
The facility will also include a welding program, which has also been identified as an important need, in Phase Two of the project, Ripley said. That program will require an addition to the structure.
“We know that those programs were identified for a reason, based off of student interest, industry support, and regional workforce needs,” he said. “We’re very interested, obviously, in the conversations at the state level and then, based off of that, we’re going to have to adjust our project as needed in order to make sure that we fit within the budget that we have.
“Some of these conversations at the state level will have to occur first, before we can proceed with construction.”
At this time, the approximate size of the Career Impact Academy is 45,000 square feet. Depending on the amount of funding that’s available for the project, “there may be a need to re-look at the size of the building – and that could affect programming,” Ripley said.
Originally, proponents of the Career Impact Academy were hopeful that construction could begin in early spring 2023, with a potential opening date in the fall of 2024, Ripley said. But the nearly nine-month delay in federal funding has had an “adverse effect” on the timeline.
“Depending upon what happens at the state level, I think that there’s an ability to still take advantage of the fall (2023) construction season,” he said, noting that it will take time to work through the state process of bid-letting and ordering building materials.
Proponents and business leaders who have committed to the project are still hopeful that the facility can open sometime during the 2024-25 school year, Ripley said.
“Our industry partners and those that I have conversations with are so incredibly supportive of the Career Impact Academy, and look forward to this project commencing,” he said. “We just have to receive our funding so that we can go ahead and start our construction. We’re excited about that opportunity.”