About three decades ago when Gail Chesterfield started working for Ivy Tech Community College, she had hopes for Henry County.
"I've always dreamed that this would happen," Chesterfield, the chancellor for Ivy Tech's East Central Region, said on Thursday. "You may have to pinch me."
Calling the project crucial to economic development and education in the Henry County area, officials broke ground on Thursday for a new Ivy Tech campus on 3335 S. Memorial Drive in New Castle.
In front of a crowd of about 75 people, representatives for Ivy Tech, Henry County government and New Castle city government took turns speaking at a lectern positioned just a feet away from the former car dealership that will become a college facility.
After the speeches, 18 people ceremoniously dug shovels into a strip of dirt that was transported onto the former dealership's parking lot for the event.
Over the next months, architects and construction crews will renovate the dealership, hoping to have it ready for the fall semester. One day, officials believe, the property will serve about 1,000 students.
"Workforce and economic development are joined at the hip," Grewe said. "And this project, it will change lives here."
The campus will allow new workers to get training, current employees to improve their skills and students to begin their higher education early, Grewe said.
Likewise, Richard Bouslog, a member of the Henry County Council and a retired elementary school principal, said education is critical to economic development.
"If New Castle is to grow and prosper, and it will, education is a key factor," Bouslog said.
He added, "Fifty years ago, education was a choice, not a necessity. Today that is not an option. Education is a necessity for a middle-class standard of living."
During his speech, Kim Cronk, president of the Henry County Commissioners, said the new campus is part of positive momentum in the county.
Cronk said the campus was the result of the cooperation of Ivy Tech, the county, the city and businesses here.
"We all work together, and we're a team," Cronk said.
Thursday's groundbreaking was decades in the making.
Using a variety of different of facilities, Ivy Tech has offered classes in Henry County for about 30 years. Currently, the college serves about 350 students here.
In the 1980s, Henry County adopted a food and beverage tax to fund the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The tax, which was at the time unrelated to Ivy Tech, was a 1 percent tax on food and drink sales at restaurants here.
When that hall of fame project was completed, county officials, with the help of state lawmakers, decided to keep the tax to use on other projects.
Last summer, about $2.2 million had collected in the food and beverage tax fund. After a story in The Courier-Times about the money, county officials decided to disburse it and to also disburse some funds that will come in the future.
The Henry County Council eventually allotted about $2.2 million to renovate the former car dealership for Ivy Tech.
State Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, who's worked on the county's food and beverage tax at the Statehouse over the years, said the campus will be a major benefit for Henry County. And it could draw students to New Castle from a larger geographic area, she said.
"It will allow students, not only younger students but people who are retraining for the workforce, to be able to get that education right here at home," Gard said.
New Castle Mayor Greg York, another speaker at Thursday's event, said the groundbreaking was one of the most exciting developments here "in a long time."
York said the location of the campus, across South Memorial Drive from the New Castle-Henry County Industrial Park, would also be a benefit.
"We're going to educate them here," York said. "And put them to work over there."