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September 13, 2011 8:06 am

NWC building project near bottom of state’s priority list

Written by Ilene Olson

After Northwest College’s request for state money to help build a new classroom building was passed over in past years, college leaders hoped the project would get a boost this time.

That boost, they hoped, would come from a new statewide college facility ranking system through the Wyoming Community College Commission.

Those hopes were dashed recently when college administrators and the NWC Board of Trustees found out the proposal was low on a prioritized list of proposals released by the commission. NWC’s request for the Yellowstone Academic Training Building ranked No. 11 out of 14 projects.

The top priority proposal identified by the new ranking system was an agriculture/rodeo complex for Casper College.

The second-priority proposal: an equine center for Central Wyoming College.

“I cannot believe that they could say the most important thing we need to do is build Casper a rodeo ground,” said Trustee Rick LaPlante of Powell during the NWC board’s meeting last month in Meeteetse.

Board President Mark Westerhold of Cody said, “I’m not against rodeo, but it just seems odd to me ...”

“And a student union building?” LaPlante said, referring to a proposal for a student center at Gillette College that ranked seventh on the list. “I thought we weren’t supposed to get those.”

“This just proves that this was a really bad experiment,” said NWC Trustee Gloria Hedderman. “If they really intended a rodeo arena and a student center to float really high and classrooms to float close to the bottom, then that’s what the numbers said.”

NWC President Paul Prestwich added, “I’m guessing there are colleges that have more than one project on there that are surprised; they would have ranked things differently.”

Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, said the system, designed by Paulien Associates, was designed to ensure that Wyoming’s interests are served when state money is used to help construct buildings for community colleges.

He noted that the seven community college districts once functioned independently as community enterprises and were funded entirely by property taxes within those districts.

Now, “they have moved to a kind of quasi-state system,” he said. “It’s a whole new ball game. We have really still seven independent colleges, yet the state is now funding something close to two-thirds of the cost. The state has said, yes, we will participate in capital construction needs, but the state is saying, we need to invest where there’s the greatest need. It needs to be in conformance to the state’s interest.

“Formerly, Northwest College was serving students in the northwest part of the state. Now, it’s serving the state, and the state is saying we don’t need to duplicate programs that are at other colleges.”

Renny MacKay, communications director for Gov. Matt Mead, said the governor wants to see a system for making good decisions about construction projects at the colleges.

“This is a starting point, because this is the first crack at establishing a system,” MacKay said.

But LaPlante said the new capital construction priority ranking system is flawed.

“Basically, they’re mixing their numbers,” he said “All you need to prove is you need classroom space, and you can have a football field.”

Prestwich said the ranking was derived from points in 15 categories, the first nine of which are computed automatically from data gathered previously by the firm that developed the formula for the commission.

Kim Mills, NWC vice president for administrative services, told the board that each college was provided with its own scores, but was given no information from other colleges’ scores.

The categories follow, along with brief explanations from an email from Mills to Prestwich and board members:

• Existing area in square feet per student FTE (full-time equivalency, calculated by dividing the total number of credit hours taken by all students by 12 credit hours). At 167 square feet per student, Northwest is close to the average of 164 square feet per student.

• Hours per week a “station” or “seat” in a classroom is used. Northwest scored poorly in this category.

• Hours per week a station in a lab is used. Northwest did well in this category.

• Total projected space needs, taking into consideration FTE, square footage and seat hours. NWC scored poorly here as well.

• Total projected instructional need. Northwest scored fair.

• Change in student FTE over the last year, computed with data from Wyoming Community College Commission.

• Change in student FTE over the last three years, also computed using WCCC data.

• Percentage of people between the ages of 15 an 65 who attended NWC last fall. “Not good,” Mills said.

Lisa Smith, NWC institutional researcher, said 62 percent of Northwest College students come from the college’s service area (Park, Big Horn and Washakie County), while 10 percent are Wyoming residents from outside the service area. Out-of-state students make up 25 percent, and the remaining 3 percent are international students.

• Projected population change in the main service area. “Some districts did well; we did fairly poorly. We got hammered on that,” Mills said Monday.

Prestwich said the colleges provide points and rationale for the remaining six categories:

• Percent of capital cost provided by the college/district. Northwest officials plan to contribute 10 percent for the NWC classroom project.

• Supports the WCCC statewide strategic plan. NWC did well, Mills said in his email.

• Project to support programs serving high growth and high-demand industries. NWC did well.

• Extent to which the project supports the college master plan. NWC did well.

• Life safety issues. “I did not put any life/safety issues down that the new building would address,” Mills said in his email, adding, “I maybe should have been more aggressive or creative in this area.”

Mills told board members last month he could not in good conscience say there were life-threatening safety issues that would be addressed by the new classroom building. A building that jeopardizes students’ lives or safety should not be in use, he said.

• Condition of existing space to be replaced or renovated. “This is the dollar amount of deferred maintenance on the buildings that would have been repurposed,” Mills wrote. “Maybe (we) could have picked up another point, but that’s about it. We have actually done pretty well on keeping the buildings in good shape.”

NWC Trustee Gloria Hedderman said the Presidents Council, consisting of the presidents of all seven community college districts, put together a different list of building project priorities.

“The Presidents Council took a human-interest at it. Each college took their most important project and they said, ‘Move these seven up to the top.’ We thought it made sense.

“The presidents presented a beautiful presentation to the commission, and they didn’t hardly even listen. They rejected it out of hand. They said, ‘No, the Legislature wanted a list abased on data, and this one (the commission’s list) is based on data.’”

At this point, Prestwich said, the presidents are hoping the Legislature will fund all 14 capital construction projects.

“Our hope is that we can help to communicate the significant need that we all have to improve our facilities,” he said. “The presidents pulling together; what we haven’t had a chance to do yet is meet directly with the governor, and we hope to be able to do this fall.”

Wyoming college building proposal ranking list

The following list of ranked community college building proposals has been included in the Wyoming Community College Commission’s budget request for consideration by Gov. Matt Mead and the 2012 Wyoming Legislature.

1. Agriculture and rodeo complex for Casper College. Cost: $6 million, 80 percent state funding requested.

2. Equine center for Central Wyoming College. Cost: $6.9 million, 80 state funding.

3. Wellness/athletic/math and science facility expansion for Western Wyoming Community College. Cost: $5.17 million, 50 percent state funding.

4. Academic space improvement for Central Wyoming College. Cost: $3.57 million, 85 percent state funding.

5. Sheridan Thorne Rider Student Center remodel/expansion for Northern Wyoming Community College District. Cost: $10.2 million, 50 percent state funding.

6. Center for higher education and community learning for Laramie County Community College. Cost: $26 million, 50 percent state funding.

7. Gillette College student center for Northern Wyoming Community College District. Cost: $21.9 million, 50 percent state funding.

8. Western education center for Western Wyoming Community College. Cost: $10.9 million, 50 percent state funding.

9. Academic space improvement in Lander for Central Wyoming College. Cost: $2 million, 85 percent state funding.

10. Douglas outreach center for Eastern Wyoming College. Cost: $12.9 million, 88 percent state funding.

11. Yellowstone academic/workforce training building for Northwest College. Cost: $14.3 million, 90 percent state funding.

12. Lancer Residence Hall addition for Eastern Wyoming College. Cost: $3.8 million, 50 percent state funding.

13. Large Animal and Ag facility for Eastern Wyoming College. Cost: $5.1 million, 81 percent state funding.

14. Academic space improvement at Sinks Canyon for Central Wyoming College. Cost: $3 million, 85 percent state funding.

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