Editorial: No to Peaslee balloon payment

The concept behind the Dwayne Peas­lee Technical Training Center is a good one and it could be beneficial to economic development in Lawrence and Douglas County long term. But there is a limit to what city and county taxpayers should be asked to contribute to the center.

A $1.57 million balloon payment on the center’s mortgage is beyond that limit.

Peaslee officials have requested that the city of Lawrence and Douglas County split the balloon payment, due in January, in addition to continuing to help fund the center’s operations.

City Manager Tom Markus does not believe Peaslee has a workable funding plan and has recommended that the city not contribute to the balloon payment.

“Peaslee has a capital component to it and an operational component to it,” Markus told commissioners. “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 opened two years ago. The Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence spearheaded the center, with support from the county and the city. The center is located in a 65,000-square-foot building at 2920 Haskell Ave., next to the Lawrence school district’s College and Career Center, and offers classes to high school students and adults.

In addition to donations from the city, county and businesses, Peaslee funding comes from student tuition and fees. 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. The center currently enrolls 200 to 300 students per semester. That’s about half of capacity.

The state of Kansas recently released data showing that not enough students are pursuing technical training to meet future employment demand. Two years after high school graduation, just 49 percent of Lawrence school district students are enrolled in college, another postsecondary training program or have completed a postsecondary program. By 2020, 71 percent of Kansas jobs will require a postsecondary degree or certification. Theoretically, Peaslee Tech could play a key role in filling that gap in Douglas County. But if student demand isn’t there, taxpayers shouldn’t bear the burden of funding the center.

The city is budgeted to contribute $200,000 to operations next year; the county is budgeted to provide $95,105 toward operations and $200,000 toward the mortgage. Those are appropriate funding levels. Peaslee Tech officials should look elsewhere for a strategy to make its balloon payment.