A large bill coming due on the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center is prompting conversations among city leaders about its future funding.
Peaslee Tech, which opened two years ago, has a $1.57 million balloon payment on its mortgage due in January, and requested that the city and Douglas County split that cost in addition to helping fund its operations.
City Manager Tom Markus is not recommending the city contribute toward the mortgage payment. In addition, he told the City Commission at its most recent meeting that the city’s recommended budget does not address the “looming expense” of Peaslee.
“Peaslee has a capital component to it and an operational component to it,” Markus said. “And I can tell you, on the operational end, everything I look at in terms of Peaslee is not sustainable. It means that we are going to continue to fund that.”
Peaslee Tech requested that the city and county split the cost of the $1.57 million payment, but neither appear prepared to do so. As currently proposed, the city’s budget allocates $200,000 toward operations, which is an increase of $50,000 over this year. As is, the county’s budget would provide $95,105 for operational costs and $200,000 to help pay down the mortgage.
The Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence spearheaded the creation of Peaslee Tech, 2920 Haskell Ave., with support from the county and the city. The center is located in a 65,000-square-foot building next to the Lawrence school district’s College and Career Center and offers classes to high school students and adults.
Peaslee Tech officials say the center is working to delay the $1.57 million mortgage payment. Markus, though, said that means the issue will come up again next year, and that he thinks a third funding source is needed.
“I can guarantee you there’s an expectation that they are coming back to the city and the county, and hopefully we can find a third leg to that stool that participates to the same level we do, but that’s looming and I don’t think we’ve addressed it,” Markus said.
Three colleges offer courses at Peaslee Tech, and noncredit courses in trades such as construction, welding, industrial engineering, HVAC and automotive technology are also offered. A new report from the Kansas State Department of Education shows that not enough high school students in the state go on to college or career training programs to fill the state's future employment needs.
Peaslee Tech Executive Director Marvin Hunt said the center enrolls 200-300 students per semester. Hunt, who announced recently that he plans to retire in September, said the center has the capacity to enroll a couple hundred more students. He said that while awareness is growing about the training Peaslee Tech offers, some parents and students still don’t realize what’s available.
“It just takes people time to realize that the careers are here, the training is here, the need is here by the employers,” Hunt said. “It’s a great need. We’ve got the training, and there are jobs out there that pay well.”
Hunt said he sees the center as in transition. He noted the center is developing three short-term certificate programs — commercial driver's license, Cisco computer and pharmacy technician training — to add to its credit courses. He said that he thinks Peaslee can become more sustainable in the future, and that he thinks the city and county both have a role.
“I think we’re just trying to put together the picture,” Hunt said. “I think the city and county will play an ongoing role, and we’re trying to figure out exactly what that balance is.”
The budget presentation from city staff recommends continuing to help fund operations at Peaslee, but also lists the possibility of identifying additional countywide funding sources and investigating a possible designation as a technical college.
Mayor Leslie Soden, who formerly worked in IT, said she had to drive a significant distance to attend classes. She said that she thinks Peaslee Tech is a really important part of Lawrence’s future in terms of attracting business and a qualified technical workforce. However, Soden said she thinks more funding from other sources, such as the school district, county, business community, or other public colleges, should be pursued.
“I think it’s something that all of us should be helping to pull the load on, because technical training is important for the city and for the future workforce,” Soden said.
A future discussion
Apart from Markus’ comments, the City Commission has not discussed the future of Peaslee Tech, but Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said he expects the conversation will take place once the budgets for 2018 are complete.
“I think that what we have to do is get through the current budget and then say, ‘OK, what’s the long-term plan for sustainability for this important component of (vocational and technical) education in our community?’” Boley said. “What’s the role of the business community, what’s the role of the county, does the city have a role? If so, how expensive should that be?”
Peaslee Board Treasurer Cynthia Yulich said the board knows the center needs a long-term, more sustainable approach.
“I think we have the partners at the table to help us navigate the problem, and we’ll get there,” Yulich said.