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Archive for Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Community colleges face big repair bills

March 14, 2007

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— While Kansas lawmakers grapple with how to pay for deferred maintenance projects at the state's universities, leaders of community colleges say maintenance needs at their schools are not getting attention.

A report done for the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees found that 19 community colleges that participated in the study had $149.5 million in deferred maintenance costs.

The state's six university campuses have a list of $660 million worth of deferred projects.

"I don't believe that our legislators feel as much responsibility for the capital improvements on our community college campuses as they do for the universities," said William Wojciechowski, president of Pratt Community College.

"We have our own boards, local mill levies. The universities are funded from the state general fund," he said.

Wojciechowski said the state does not provide community colleges any money specifically for deferred maintenance, but the community colleges do receive state general fund money, which officials can use as they see fit.

Hutchinson Community College's nearly $17 million in deferred maintenance was the highest of the 19 community colleges in the report.

Ed Berger, president of the Hutchinson college, said legislators could consider helping community colleges with a matching dollars plan or a tax credit plan.

For example, the state could pay 30 percent of the community college's deferred maintenance costs, with the college paying the rest.

Or, he said, donors contributing money toward community college deferred maintenance could be given a tax credit.

Wojciechowski said the Legislature should help community colleges because they are successful at serving the state's students.

"I think that community colleges have changed a great deal over the years," Wojciechowski said. "When we first started, we were local institutions. Today, our mission is more regional and probably even more of a statewide mission."

Hutchinson began addressing its deferred maintenance needs about five years ago, when the Board of Trustees approved a campus master plan that included renovations to the Industrial Technology building, the library and Gowans Stadium.

In February, Hutchinson Community College's board of trustees increased the capital outlay fund.

Carter File, dean of finance at the college, said the increase would be used to address the college's deferred maintenance needs, if board members approved.

Pratt Community College already has the highest levy in the state, 41 mills.

"Our board has pretty much capped the mill levy," Wojciechowski said. "They feel a lot of pressure from our local taxpayers to keep the costs down."

That leaves little room to address deferred maintenance issues, he said.

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