MCC board struggles to agree on expansion

CRYSTAL LAKE – The new year brought the same problems for McHenry County College as the board of trustees continues to struggle to come to an agreement on the scope of a project that has now been years in the making.

A proposed expansion of health science and fitness facilities was debated again by trustees, some of whom voiced frustration over the group “spinning their wheels” on the issue and others who suggested another study to look at more alternatives.

Trustees debated the issue much of last year, rejecting a 43,000-square-foot facility proposal that would have cost the college more than $40 million but never settling on a comprised size or cost of the project.

Chairman Ron Parrish suggested this week that the board commission another study to look at ways to optimize education delivery and possibly retrofit existing space to meet the needs of health science programs while moving other subjects such as history primarily online.

Some trustees shot down the idea, saying face-to-face education is still important while others did not want to spend money on another study after a roughly $57,000 study produced proposals the board might not even approve.

“I’m not ready to accept the idea that we need additional building space,” Parrish said. “I think we need to know whether we are optimizing our current building space.”

The board also discussed funding the future project for the first time with Trustee Mary Miller suggesting that 40 percent of the resources could come from the foundation and donors, 10 to 15 percent from college revenues and the rest in a referendum.

President Vicky Smith said she was confident a donation campaign could raise at least 50 percent of the project cost as one benefactor already indicated a seven-figure gift could come.

Still, the idea of any referendum let alone one that would cover as much as 30 to 40 percent of the cost seemed far-fetched to other trustees, including Tom Wilbeck.

“We have to insulate that funding source as much as possible if not entirely,” Wilbeck said. “I don’t think [a referendum] is going to fly.”

While college officials eye an expansion, there is still $42 million of deferred maintenance that must be addressed.

Smith presented trustees with a series of increases in tuition and fees that would take the rate from the existing $102 per credit hour to $124 in a three-year period. The rate would include a new $5 infrastructure fee to address the maintenance.

But that proposal also failed to gain full consensus as Trustee Molly Walsh voiced opposition and Wilbeck questioned whether there was a tipping point that would drive students away.

“I’ve done this for 14 years and every time I’ve run the data it shows that when you raise the tuition the demand does not decrease because of the value that is associated with an education,” said Robert Tenuta, chief financial officer for the college.

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