Lincoln mayor: Community will survive the 'devastating blow' of college closure
The mayor of Lincoln said Thursday the loss of Lincoln College is a "devastating blow" to the Logan County community.
After 157 years, the college will close in May at the end of the school, while nearby Lincoln Christian University is reducing its footprint by going mostly virtual, said Mayor Tracy Welch.
"When you have two of your three higher education institutions report closing or downsizing within 45 days, that's definitely going to have an impact," said Welch, adding, for now, he wants to focus on Lincoln College's employees and students
"Looking to pull in some economic development type of activities, whether that be opportunities for employment elsewhere, some benefits, whatever we may be able to come up with. So, some transitional items," said Welch.
The mayor said he already has begun discussions with area lawmakers and economic development officials on how to come back from the closure.
"I think Lincoln will certainly survive. We're a community and we will come back from this loss like we have others in the past. It may take us some time," said Welch.
The campus is in a good location, he said, and would be attractive for another use, though he's not yet aware of the college's plans to deal with the land.
“The college in the past couple years put in a solar farm and they've got a lot of dorm space. I think the possibilities are not to say endless, but there's a lot of possibilities,” said Welch.
He said the recreation center that could have multiple uses, and he wants to make sure the world-renowned Lincoln Heritage Museum continues to operate. It has been part of the college budget until now.
Welch acknowledged the closure may make the task of economic development more difficult because only Heartland Community College is left with a significant higher education presence in the community.
"I think that impact is determined by how focused we are in attracting other businesses in the meantime. But it's going to be hard to make up for that loss, that's for sure," said Welch, acknowledging the loss of the roughly 1,000 college students is more than just the dollars they spend in town.
“We have been involved for quite a while in working with that student population to welcome them to the community, help them seek places of employment, help them connect with those employers that are looking for the help they can provide,” said Welch.
He also said the college has played a key role in the cultural life of Lincoln.
“The student population brings diversity to the community, and it's welcomed. I think we all learn by sharing different perspectives," said Welch. "They're a vital component to the success of our community, just like the people that have lived here their whole lives.”
Over the years, he said the city of Lincoln has had several departments reach out to connect with the college and its students.