Trustees agree to scaled-back expansion at MCC

CRYSTAL LAKE – A proposal to construct a new health science and fitness facility at McHenry County College could be significantly reduced after trustees and administrators agreed that "health club" features would be excessive.

After touring existing health science and fitness facilities, trustees said a proposed $40 million-plus facility with 43,000 square feet for health fitness space for features such as a lap pool and track was not needed to meet program needs.

MCC President Vicky Smith, who has lobbied for more health fitness education space that is limited to 3,000 square feet, said features such as a pool and track are easily expendable if it meant getting enough laboratory and classroom space for the equipment and resources personal trainer and health education students need.

"I don't even know if we need 18,000 square feet," Smith said. "I just want to make sure we have enough space to meet our programmatic needs."

The college has struggled to accommodate all the programs that use health fitness resources. Joel Chapman, fitness center coordinator, said the exercise science lab has room for only 24 students at a time, which can be difficult to meet with programs such as health and fitness, criminal justice and physical therapy assistant classes vying for time.

The space also is open to residents to use for a membership fee.

While all agreed the expansion should focus on meeting program needs, the amount of space needed and future growth remained contentious issues.

Trustee Chris Jenner said he had a difficult time accepting growth projections he has seen in feasibility studies. Reports showed kindergarten-through-12th-grade enrollment levels in the area have remained flat and jobs in the fitness instruction and education sector are expected to grow by 16.6 percent statewide by 2020.

"People are moving out of this state in droves," Jenner said, noting that McHenry County has the fifth-highest property taxes in the state and is in the top-30 in the nation. "If nothing changes, we will be the next Detroit."

Trustees Tom Wilbeck and Molly Walsh also had reservations. Wilbeck said he was still not supportive of a new building and would like to see more effort in repurposing space, while Walsh wondered whether expanding off existing facilities would be best.

Smith said neither possibility would be a likely fix, as the college has maximized space and there is limited room to expand off structures.

"If you're trying to repurpose our current facilities ... I'm just not seeing any free space that we could renovate," she said. "And we don't have much lawn close up to the buildings that we could pop out on."

The board will continue to discuss options for a health facility as part of the first step in a $278 million expansion plan in the next 10 years that also includes a fine arts building and student center.

The price tag could continue to shrink as some trustees push for more limited growth. No funding source has been determined because trustees first want to know the scope of each individual project.

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