HANCOCK COUNTY – Officials have indicated their support of $40 million to develop an education and training facility in the county.
The move deepens efforts that have been underway among government, business, education and community leaders on the Hancock County Innovation and Education Center. Those behind the initiative say it would fill a gap in the county for workforce training and vocational education for high school students.
Hancock County Commissioners John Jessup, Gary McDaniel and Bill Spalding voted 3-0 this week indicating their intent to fund $40 million toward the effort contingent on a structure they find suitable for operations and capital at the facility.
Funding for the project would likely come from a bond issue paid off by revenue from one or more of the county’s tax increment financing districts. The TIF districts make up areas of the county where taxes from new business development get set aside for benefiting those areas. Those districts are overseen by the Hancock County Redevelopment Commission, members of which are appointed by the county commissioners.
Caitlin Cheek of Baker Tilly, which provides financial consulting services to the redevelopment commission, discussed revenues from the county’s TIF districts with the commissioners at their meeting. Cheek noted that there are various pledges associated with those revenues, including existing outstanding bonds, but also took into account all of the new development in the TIF districts.
The county’s Mt. Comfort North allocation area has the most revenue, Cheek said, and will collect its last increment in 2035 upon its expiration. She added that if a $45 million bond issue was carried out with a final payment in 2035, that would result in an annual payment of about $5.4 million. Revenue from that TIF district exceeds that amount each year, she continued.
Another option would be to conduct a bond issue payable from general revenues, Cheek said, which would permit funds from other TIF districts to be used. That would allow the repayment period to extend beyond 2035 and result in a lower annual payment.
The goal is for the innovation and education center to open in fall 2025.
“Fall of ‘25 is pretty tight, but I think there’s probably a way to make that happen,” Spalding said.
Representatives of Indianapolis-based Veridus Group, a consulting firm hired to assist with the innovation and education center, asked the commissioners for the $40 million commitment and said it would provide a big push toward making the project a reality.
The area near CR 200W and CR 300N is being targeted for the site of the facility.
David Rainey, director of owner’s representation for Veridus Group, presented a conceptual design of the facility to the commissioners that includes space for high school students, Ivy Tech, Vincennes University, a potential Hancock Health radiology program and a large public community space.
Those needs would require a 144,000-square-foot two-story building, Rainey said, with a price tag of about $72 million.
“The project – right now, as it stands – we can’t afford necessarily a 144,000-square-foot building,” he said.
That has been prompting those behind the initiative to plan to phase the project, with the first consisting of 90,000 to 110,000 square feet for a cost of $45 million to $50 million.
“That would put us in the ballpark of where we can be able to afford the building,” Rainey said. “It’s going to give everybody the use and the space that they need initially for their programming. But the important thing is going to be to have the foresight to understand what the next phase will look like, because there’s a huge need.”
The county has contributed $350,000 to the initiative so far. The Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative has awarded $1.4 million. Private funding totals over $175,000. Project organizers continue to pursue further funding opportunities as well.
A gap remains even after the latest request to the county.
“We believe that $40 million ask and your commitment to that would help with that to go out to other organizations to pull in that capital stack,” Rainey told the commissioners.
Jessup agreed funds from the county would go a long way toward encouraging others to contribute.
“You can’t want to spur investment and be against investment at the same time,” he said.
Spalding agreed as well.
“It’s going to spur that, it’s going to spur talent attraction, it’s going to help us out in the training and retraining that we need to have happen right now in the county,” he said.
Rainey said he hopes for the final design to be finished this October or November before putting the project out to bid.
“We have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time,” he said.
After the facility is up and running, its operational costs would likely be funded by entities using the space. That is the model used at MADE @ Plainfield, a similar endeavor that Veridus Group also helped bring to fruition.
Alaina Shonkwiler, director of community & economic development for Veridus Group, said the process is underway to create a nonprofit entity to oversee the operations of the building. The current proposed structure is a nine-person board, with three seats for industry partners appointed by the Hancock Economic Development Council. There would also be seats for the county redevelopment commission, commissioners and council, respectively. Three would be for the facility’s education partners.
While supportive, Jessup wants to determine who would own the building and if the county could have more of a presence on the board before fully committing to the request. He said he doesn’t want to spend upward of $50 million only to not have the county own the building and the commissioners only have one board appointment.
Shonkwiler said discussions to that end could take place ahead of finalizing the commitment.