In the next few weeks, students from China will move in to what used to be the carriage house at the mansion built for the Joseph Bettendorf family.
Now the campus of Rivermont Collegiate, the newly renovated structure is an up-scale dormitory for a set of new house parents and students who have grown up in China.
Rivermont's headmaster is Max Roach, and he is fresh off a 15-day trip to China. Six to 10 boarding school students are expected to start this school year.
Rivermont officially takes possession of the new digs, renovated at a cost of $1.5 million, on Aug. 1. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for the public is scheduled for Aug. 11.
Meanwhile, in Clinton, Iowa, plans were announced in January that the former Ashford University would become a boarding school for students, and offer a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.
A Oregon-based investment firm named Clinton Catalyst LLC purchased the university in December 2015 for $1.6 million. The STEM curriculum is being developed with the help of community partners, according to Steve Howes, a partner in Howes & Jeffries Realtors, Clinton.
Howes works on marketing the initiative. "It's a positive move forward, and the community is very receptive to the concept," he said.
A week ago at Rivermont Collegiate, workers from Russell Construction put the finishing touches on paint, and new carpeting was set to be fully installed. A cleaning crew was scheduled to follow, Roach said. New furniture, including beds and dressers, is on order.
"They have done a first-rate job," Roach said of the construction workers. A small porch on the front side has been rebuilt. The original one was in danger of falling off the building.
The garden walls are rebuilt, and all bricks and light fixtures have been cleaned and sand-blasted.
The interior was stripped down to the stud walls, with all plumbing and electrical wiring remade, and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system installed.
Roach and Phillip Dunbridge, assistant head of the school and director of external relations and admissions, recently returned from China. The two traveled there to identify potential students.
The first wave of boarding school students will come from China, Roach said, as a degree from U.S. schools is widely sought among some Chinese. In addition, the Iowa location is seen as safe and clean, with an idyllic setting, he said.
While he could have signed up 30 students, he limited the number for the first year, trying to focus on the best students who would have the fewest language and adjustment issues.
When Rivermont's new STEM center is built, that's when officials will try to fill the boarding school, the headmaster said. Other countries where students may come from in the future include Central America and South America, Europe, Russia, Pakistan, Thailand, India, Korea and Japan.
Roach envisions a "carefully engineered" global village in Bettendorf, with four to five foreign students in each of the upper grades, ninth through 12th.
To that end, plans are in place to demolish what is called the "Wallace House," or the place where the Bettendorf family lived while the mansion was under construction.
That structure has some character, but Roach said he's afraid now that it poses a potential hazard to students. It could be razed this fall.
The second of a two-stage construction plan for the campus, a four-story building is envisioned in the place of the house. What is taught there will emphasize STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and math curriculum.
Some of the foreign students have arrived, and others will be en route soon. Rivermont offers a "rolling admissions" entrance to the school, with one criteria for admission being solid performance on an English test.
So far, there are no hiccups with student visas.
When he and Dunbridge were in Beijing, and in other parts of China, he found the Midwest location was a good selling point to Chinese parents. The idea that Iowa is safe and clean, he said, resonated, even as he competed for students against boarding schools on the coasts.
Roach will return this fall to China, on another recruiting trip.
The foreign students will pay $39,000 a year at Rivermont in 2017-18, but that will increase to $45,000 by 2018-19.
It costs Rivermont $19,000 a year to educate each of its 200 day students, and a majority of them get tuition assistance, Roach said in 2016, when the boarding school initiative was first announced.