Partnerships & Grants Assist Dawson County Opportunity Center - Lexington, NE   3/6/2012

Many communities across the country often are faced with empty 'big box' store buildings and struggle...

Partnerships & Grants Assist Dawson County Opportunity Center – Lexington, NE

Many communities across the country often are faced with empty “big box” store buildings and struggle to find an appropriate re‑use for the facility. One Nebraska community was creative and turned its challenge into an opportunity. Three years ago the former Wal-Mart building sat empty when it was purchased by the city of Lexington but with a lot of discussion, planning, and a number of grants, the Dawson County Opportunity Center has come to fruition.

It all started with Dawson Area Development (DAD) securing a $4,500 planning grant in 2008 through the Building Entrepreneurial Communities Act to lead brainstorming sessions with an array of county groups. "Just to figure out all the needs took some serious thinking," notes Jen Wolf, DAD executive director. "That’s where the name Opportunity Center came from. The architects and engineers working on the interior redesign gave it that name for the discussions and it stuck."

Grants of more than $1 million and cooperative investments came from Lexington Public Schools, the city of Lexington, Central Community College, the state, and others helped the project to proceed.

Among the grants was a $25,000 JOBS grant received from the Federal Home Loan Bank in Topeka, Kansas, and sponsored by Pinnacle Bank in Lexington. A Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grant through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development for $708,898 was used for classrooms and common space. Central Community College provided furnishings and technology equipment for the classrooms and their office space. And last but not least, a $250,000 weatherization grant through the Nebraska Department of Energy, together with matching funds by the city, helped pay for roofing, insulation, and other weatherization improvements.

Today the former Wal-Mart building houses the Lexington Early Learning Academy, operated under the support of the Lexington Public Schools; Central Community College; Lexington Area Chamber of Commerce; Dawson Area Development; Nebraska Department of Labor Workforce Development; a regional branch of the Nebraska Brand Office; and a Nebraska Health and Human Services Customer Service Center. Many local and statewide organizations use the building for meetings and training. More than 400 people and 225 businesses utilize the facility. The center provides classes for 240 Lexington Public School students and 275 college and community education students. There are 102 individuals employed in the building.

Joe Pepplitsch, Lexington's city administrator, adds, "The Opportunity Center creates a collaborative environment of resources related to education, innovation, training, technology, business development, and individual development. This project represents a proactive approach to limit outmigration and encourage economic growth by providing opportunities for individuals and businesses to access resources in a 'one‑stop' environment."

The Opportunity Center is served electrically by the city of Lexington, a wholesale customer of Nebraska Public Power District.

To view other Nebraska articles, please visit the online version of the Nebraska Industrial Overview.

Nebraska Public Power District’s economic development consultants are available to assist with your confidential project needs. Call (800) 282-6773, Ext. 5534, or email

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