MCC president makes argument for expansion

CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County College president Vicky Smith attempted to break a gridlock on future expansion for the college by giving trustees a slew of statistics showing a new building is necessary.

Trustees have spent more than a year discussing expansion options ranging from small renovations to $40 million buildings with no clear consensus, but Smith said statistics show more room is badly needed for basic education needs.

Of the 39 community colleges in Illinois, McHenry County College ranks 33rd when it comes to gross square footage per full-time equivalent student. The average gross square foot of space per student increased from 125 square feet in 2001 to roughly 140 in 2012 among Illinois community colleges.

In 2012, McHenry County College had 92 square feet per full-time equivalent student. Nearby Elgin Community College had 154 square feet per full-time equivalent student.

"You don't necessarily have to compare us," Smith said. "But you can see why it is tough for us to find space to schedule classes."

In addition to the square-foot comparison, Smith said the average class size at the college is 22.9 students – the second highest in the state – compared to the 18.7 students per class average.

Smith urged the board to select an architect within the next two months to start the process of at least developing ideas of how expansion could look. In the meantime, Smith said she would likely need to put portable classrooms on the campus to make space for classes starting in the fall.

Trustee Tom Wilbeck said statistics and data are too focused on the peak hours of classroom usage between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and not the 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. hours the space can be used for.

Using data from the college, Wilbeck said 43 percent of classes have fewer than 15 students in them and roughly half the art classes have 10 students or less. He also said 64 percent of classrooms are not used between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

"We have a fiduciary responsibility as trustees," he said. "This resource has a capacity. That capacity is from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., but we constantly take a look at that four-hour slice from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m."

Board chairman Ron Parrish also said he still believes off-campus options are available for far less cost to the college.

"I can't understand how we can continue to keep our heels dug in and not consider all the options," Parrish said, noting more online courses are also an option. "We seem to be just grossly ignoring any opportunity."

After months of students addressing the board with pleas for more space, Smith also said the college would like to move forward with an interim solution until trustees can come to an agreement on expansion. 

Smith said the college would convert the atrium into five rooms with see-through dividers that would give students a space to meet and socialize. The conversion would cost roughly $60,000 with all the furniture and dividers that would be needed. 

"It's not that we haven't been listening to all the students who have been coming forward," Smith said. "This can serve as an interim until we get additional space here."

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