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McHenry County College staff members speak in favor of expansion

CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County College trustees received a more detailed account of what health and science departments need as the board considers constructing a new building for the program.

Staff members of health and science programs argued their case for more space, saying expansion and improvements are long overdue.

More details were given about how the proposed space would be used, including an additional laboratory for nursing and the EMS/EMT program, new laboratories for soon-to-come programs including physical therapy and respiratory therapy and doubling the size of some spaces for courses such as occupational therapy.

Administrators told trustees new programs could not be accredited without dedicated classrooms and labs while some existing programs could double lecture sessions from 24 students per class to 48 with more space.

Marla Garrison, a biology instructor, made a passionate plea to trustees, asking them not to settle for repurposing space or shifting crucial curriculum to online-only offerings.

Garrison said she was ashamed she did not push for expansion and improvements when she came to the college 14 years ago as laboratories were "abysmal" back then. Biology department chair Robert Smith added space is at a premium with 170 students on a waiting list for only 40 open seats in major courses.

"We're in a crisis. We're desperate," Garrison said. "I will teach in the pouring rain in a parking lot at midnight, but that would not serve our students. There is no community in which you or I wish to live where the schools are subpar."

Initial plans ranged anywhere from $29.5 million to $47.3 million with the most expansive option including a lap pool and a large community fitness center. Trustees agreed in November those "health club" amenities were not needed and decided to look at only what was necessary for program space.

Many of the college's health science programs have maxed out enrollment, and the institution has less gross square footage per student than other area colleges. While McHenry County College has roughly 100 gross square feet per student, other schools such as Harper College and Elgin Community College have more than 130 gross square feet per student.

The board will continue to discuss options and funding mechanisms as no revenue source has been finalized.

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