With Downtown Campus Among Plans, Muskegon Community College Makes Case For Millage At Town Hall Meeting

Andrew Trzaska | May 22, 2012

Muskegon Community College put its plans for a $30.6 million renovation and expansion in front of members of the public at a town hall meeting and walkthrough on its campus Tuesday night.

The present plan is to place a ballot measure on the November 2012 ballot for a millage to support development in four key areas, detailed at the meeting as well as in a letter sent out to community members earlier this month, signed by Muskegon Community College (MCC) president Dr. Dale Nesbary and board of trustees chair Dr. Donald Crandall:

  • Renovation and expansion of the current science labs on campus, including a two-level addition, new equipment, and spaces that mimic real-life medical and science facilities
  • Renovation and expansion of the Bartels-Rode Gymnasium, leading to the possible creation of health sciences and recreation management academic programs and extended, campus-wide recreation activities
  • A large-scale overhaul for Art Department, including improvements to the Overbrook Theater and music areas, plus new art studios, classrooms, a gallery and kiln room. Currently the Art building is a pole barn with limited space and no air conditioning.
  • A 35,000 square foot “downtown Muskegon satellite facility” to help alleviate instructional space constraints at the current campus. The campus would see instruction in fields including entrepreneurship, performing arts and beyond.

Priorities for development are in the order presented, meaning the science wing would be first to receive new development, with the downtown facility coming last.

The finances of the deal work out to just shy of $2 per month tax increase for homeowners in the county, based on a .4773 millage rate on a home with an average of $50,000 taxable value.  The yearly tax increase would work out to $23.87 per year.

The science and health facilities are estimated to cost $8.6 apiece. The art facility will cost $1.3 million, and the downtown development is slated for approximately $9 million.  The remaining $3.1 million would go to related costs, including improved signage across the current and possible downtown campus..

Feedback will strongly affect the board’s final decision at placement on the ballot. Community opinion surveys will be mailed out to members of the public as well this spring.   This will be the follow-up to a community survey done last year, which according to Dr. Nesbary on Tuesday yielded less-than-perfect results:

“[In last year’s survey] we were not where we wanted to be in terms of serving our community as an institution.”

Further community forums would be held in the spring, with the college planning to use that feedback to decide whether or not to place the measure on the November ballot.

Enrollment at Muskegon Community College stands at approximately 5,200 students at the time of publication, which remains one of the highest enrollments after peaking at 5,400 in 2010.

Approximately 40 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, not including MCC staff and trustees.

MCC Turns Eyes Downtown

While the creative and performing arts, science, and health education portions of the plan are primarily improvements to existing facilities on the campus located at Quarterline and Marquette Avenues in Muskegon, the downtown facility stands to possibly be a completely new frontier for the college.

Answering a question from a member of the public, Dr. Nesbary indicated the college had not yet decided whether it would build new structures downtown or use existing structures:

“We’re looking for the best opportunity for our students, whether that is an existing or a new building.”

Muskegon Community College first existed as Muskegon Junior College and was housed near downtown in Muskegon High School.  As it grew, it scattered its facilities all over downtown, but moved out Marquette Avenue in the mid 1960s.

Most recently, higher education downtown has primarily been driven by Baker College.  Bake College of Muskegon was previously known as Muskegon Business College until 1990 and existed at the current Muskegon County administration complex at Pine Street and Apple Avenue until later that decade.  In 2009, Baker College opened the Culinary Institute of Michigan at the corner of Third Street and Clay Avenue in downtown, and has seen record enrollment and the opening of a student-run restaurant and coffee shop.

The letter explained MCC’s economic rationale for the downtown campus:

The MCC Board of Trustees is confident that the proposed satellite facility would help improve the quality of live in downton Muskegon, benefit existing downtown retailers and other businesses, as well as attract new businesses in the downtown area.”

While no direct citations were provided, the letter goes on to say that “downtown satellite facilities implemented by other community colleges in Michigan and nationally have proven to be successful.”

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst