KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) — The University of Nebraska at Kearney is expected to announce construction soon of a university engagement center for its University Village project, taking another step toward turning a vast field of alfalfa into business offices, town houses and condos, shops and restaurants.

Joe Johnson, a business consultant for the Olsson engineering firm, told the Omaha World-Herald that Olsson officials "definitely have an interest" in the center, which is envisioned as a space for meetings and community events, businesses and state offices.

"Nothing's official," Johnson said of any commitment to University Village. However, he said, Olsson officials think University Village "is a great space, and the potential for it is just huge for greater Nebraska."

So far only two university buildings have been built on the 104 acres (42 hectares).

"This is not a two-year project," university Chancellor Doug Kristensen said during a recent tour of the area. The idea for University Village came out of a university system brainstorming session a few years ago. It's expected to grow as its future public-private partnerships flourish. As the stream of state money for higher education slows in Nebraska and other states, officials have said, schools know the major projects of the future will require private partners.

Aksarben Village in Omaha shows how a college and companies live side by side and can support each other.

Besides a park, restaurants and movie theater, Aksarben Village contains offices of major employers such as Pacific Life, HDR Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, Green Plains ethanol and Olsson.

To the north are Mammel Hall for University of Nebraska at Omaha business programs and the Peter Kiewit Institute, which houses the school's information and technology programs.

The presence of so many business opportunities "allows us to extend the boundaries of education well beyond the classroom," said university business dean Louis Pol. Businesses can use the university for leadership training or use Mammel Hall to conduct their own training programs, he said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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