An Oregon-based investment group announced plans Monday to open a new and “advanced” high school next year at the former Ashford University campus in Clinton.
Clinton Catalyst LLC, which acquired the property for $1.6 million in December 2015, wants to turn the shuttered space into a STEM-focused boarding school with the goal of offering tuition-free education to Iowans, a company representative said.
The private firm, which specializes in commercial real estate, finalized a contract sale last week, valued at $28 million, with the Asian Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization also headquartered in Oregon.
Brian Clem, one of three co-owners of Clinton Catalyst, believes the partnership will help recruit donors and international students.
Under the current framework, out-of-state and international students will pay full tuition, which will cost between $30,000 and $50,000, he said.
"It became more and more clear people would be nervous about for-profit landlords, so we decided to sell it to a nonprofit instead so we can move forward on this thing," said Clem. “Between donations and taxpayer support, we can make it a public school just like any other public high school in Iowa."
The news comes about nine months after Ashford University held its final graduation ceremony for students last May.
The historic property, which served as a collegiate institution for almost 100 years, consists of 11 buildings totaling 415,788 square feet situated on 153 acres. The facilities include several classroom buildings, three residence halls, a 1,100-seat arena, two basketball gymnasiums, a 4,416-square-foot athletic building and a 23.6-acre athletic field. The main campus is located at 400 N. Bluff Blvd. and consists of eight buildings on nearly 17 acres.
In the coming months, the school still needs to hire qualified faculty members and develop a high school curriculum grounded on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, Clem said.
By August, organizers hope to provide supplemental programming for high school and community college students in the area before bringing in out-of-state and international students in 2018.
In a news release, Yuhong Dong, executive director of the Asian Education Foundation, said he is "proud" to join the effort supported by multiple community, state and international partners to build a "best of class" STEM school.
Clem, a Democratic state legislator from Salem, Oregon, said he has spent much of the last year briefing various stakeholders in the Clinton community and Iowa state lawmakers, including Gov. Terry Branstad, to gauge interest levels.
Already, Clinton Catalyst, along with the Clinton County Development Association and the Clinton Regional Development Authority, have raised a little more than $200,000 to fund the development.
Several groups from China, who have toured the campus, also have indicated an interest in sending students to the future school, Clem added.
"People are pretty pleased in what we have in mind," said Clem, who enters Oregon's legislative session on Wednesday. "It takes money and time to make these things happen."
Karen Vickers, president of Clinton Community College, said she has had "general" discussions with Clem, but has not nailed down anything concrete in terms of potential class offerings.
She called the project “good” for the community, and “very exciting.”
Earlier this month, Rivermont Collegiate, a college preparatory school in Bettendorf, announced plans to launch a boarding school in August.