November Ballot Question Information
Voters go the polls on Nov. 5 to decide upon a $23.7 million plan to upgrade Muskegon Community College’s facilities - most built almost a half-century ago – that serve the college’s nationally and regionally accredited programs in science, technology, engineering, math, health and the arts.
MCC President Dale K. Nesbary recently explained the scope, necessity and impact of the proposed capital improvements, whose overall cost has been slashed by $7 million - or 22 percent – from the November 2012 request narrowly defeated by Muskegon County voters.
“Many of our facilities are nearly 50 years old—including our science, health, and creative arts spaces,” he said. “They were built when MCC had 2,000 students. We now have a student population of nearly 5,000 credit and over 1,000 non-credit students. These over-extended facilities have become critically inadequate.”
Based upon three years of research, including master planning, strategic planning, and extensive community surveys and input, the MCC Board of Trustees in August unanimously agreed to send to voters the proposal, which requires a modest annual investment of $18.96 per homeowner based upon $1.58 monthly per $100,000 of a home’s market value. Increases in operational costs will be absorbed using modest increases in existing revenue sources as well as income generated by new services provided.
“Proceeds of the bond measure will allow MCC to address the Board’s top priorities: new and renovated science labs, health and physical education space, updated creative and performing arts space, and a general education facility in downtown Muskegon. Also benefitting will be nursing, respiratory therapy, computer-aided design and more than 30 other current and future programs”, Nesbary continued.
Meeting Community Workforce Needs
“The need for talent development, workforce training and job creation is at an all-time high,” he said. “During the past five years, MCC has worked with more than 200 companies throughout Muskegon County and West Michigan to create customized training programs and to develop apprenticeships and internships. Local and regional employers, including health care facilities, manufacturers and designers, have called on MCC graduates to provide the talent needed to grow our economy. These employers have repeatedly hired our graduates and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.”
“Community colleges across the nation are poised to play an integral role in the revitalization of America’s economy with their ability to offer such targeted training. MCC has been serving that role in Muskegon County for generations”, said Nesbary, “but the college and its outstanding faculty have been challenged more than ever in recent years by its antiquated equipment and cramped buildings.”
“Science, technology, engineering, and math are among the most critical skills needed for Muskegon to compete in a global economy,” Nesbary said. “Combined with critical thinking and creative skills, they will position us to compete favorably with the most skilled and talented regions in the nation and the world.”
“Affordable and quality education remain the key to Muskegon County’s resurgence. MCC has successfully committed its efforts for years toward providing local students with the most cost-effective education in the state. Our students deserve the finest academic preparation and our employers require world class talent out of the box. To maintain that promise, MCC must enhance its facilities and technology.”
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Facilities
On July 3 of this year, Gov. Snyder signed a supplemental appropriations bill authorizing MCC to develop planning documents for 33,000 square feet of existing and expanded campus facilities. The new law authorizes MCC to begin planning for the project, which would have the State absorb $4.65 million of the $9.2 million project with passage of an upcoming construction appropriation. This project, with its new and renovated classrooms and labs, will serve a combined 18 academic programs and would renovate existing lab and instructional space, as well as construct new space adjacent to the Stevenson Center for Higher Education
“We need to compete on a national and global level,” said Nesbary. “In addition to meeting crucial student needs, this expansion will also benefit employers and the community at large. It will help attract and retain talented individuals and equip them with the science skills to make them both more effective employees and informed residents critical to improving the overall health of our communities. One local employer recently told me that they have 50 job openings, but cannot hire locally due to the lack of well-trained workers. The new STEM area will address this and related needs.”
Health and Physical Education
Now 46 years old, Bartels-Rode Gymnasium is the most heavily used facility at MCC. The proposed $6.18 million in additions - 17,599 sq. ft. - and renovations - 12,800 sq. ft. - include a new recreation floor area, fitness center, classrooms and training space that collectively serve 10 academic areas. These include important health, physical education, and allied health programs, all of which will be available for community use.
“Our 150 percent growth as a campus since 1968 has taken the most wear and tear on our over-used health and recreation facilities,” explained Nesbary. “When we talk about making Muskegon County the healthiest county in Michigan by the year 2021, MCC can and should be an active participant by creating student opportunities to learn lifelong fitness skills and by enhancing community access to expanded facilities.” It is expected that the new fitness and health facilities will generate operational revenue to offset increased costs associated with the additional building space.
Creative and Performing Arts
In the early 1970s, MCC placed its creative arts program in a “temporary” facility - a free-standing pole barn at the far corner of the north parking lot. The program is still located in that pole barn, with its inadequate cooling, heating, lighting, storage and demonstration space. The site’s limitations negate year-round and evening instruction.
The proposed $5.9 million arts center includes five new art studios, three classrooms, an exhibition gallery and kiln room, as well as improvements to the Overbrook Theater and performance space and expanded lab and multimedia instructional space to serve MCC’s growing visual arts, performing arts and communications programs. The Visual Arts program would be relocated in an expansion of the existing Overbrook Theater. The Music, Theater, and Communications programs would occupy existing space along with minimal expansion to accommodate program growth.
“Muskegon County has a rich and proud history not only of supporting the arts but also of producing its own talented artists, many of whom make their living operating small studios in our communities,” explained Nesbary. Muskegon County is home to many exceptional arts institutions, including the Muskegon Museum of Art, the internationally recognized Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with its 6,000-plus students annually, and many exceptional scholastic music programs which garner state championships and national attention. “Our faculty and staff are highly skilled, regularly performing locally, regionally, and nationally,” added Nesbary. “MCC’s arts facilities need to be up to the highest standards to meet the expectations of and continue the educational process for these talented students. We need to keep these students in our community rather than sending them out of the region or state. Upgraded facilities will help us accomplish this goal.”
Downtown Center: Long Term Student Growth and Community Demands
The Center would provide academic space to handle the increased enrollment experienced by the College over the years. Programs would include on-site “wrap around” classes - English, math, science – as well as student services to minimize the need for students to frequently commute to and from the main campus.
“Many colleges around the nation and in Michigan have partnered with their communities to grow the local economy and just as importantly to serve the needs of business and the community,” explained Nesbary.
Community goals would be satisfied by having traditional classes conducted in non-traditional spaces. Other building features would include: an interactive lobby-museum celebrating area businesses and technology; an event room for special seminars and guest speakers; small team areas for collaborative group projects; and a research room.
The Board is considering several potential programs to anchor the Downtown Center, including Applied Technology (Manufacturing), Creative Arts, and Business Development/Entrepreneurism.
Ongoing Financial Stability
“It is important the community understand that Muskegon Community College continues on strong and improving financial footing,” said Nesbary, pointing to comments by two independent financial evaluators.
As it has for over a decade, MCC received another unqualified or “clean audit” in November 2012 from the public auditing firm of Brickley DeLong. Meanwhile, the international debt rating agency Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed MCC’s debt rating of AA- in August 2013, stating that:
“The stable outlook on each issuer reflects our expectation that credit quality, including financial, economic, and debt profile characteristics, will remain relatively unchanged over the two-year outlook horizon, and therefore we do not expect to change the rating during the outlook period….”
Standard and Poor’s further described the colleges reserve funds, currently at 18 percent, as “very strong.”
“The College is pleased to offer this opportunity to rebuild and enhance our facilities to better serve our students and our community,” concluded Nesbary. “We encourage the public to visit us to understand how the community will benefit.”