Community colleges’ needs unmet

other_state_newsBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The $23 million in bonds approved for the state’s 15 community colleges by the recently completed 2014 session of the Legislature will fall far short of addressing all the capital needs of the two-year schools.

A five-year capital improvement plan submitted to the state Department of Finance and Administration cites $156 million in needs for preplanning, repair and renovation and other capital improvements at the community colleges.

It is important to note that in addition to the community colleges being awarded $23 million in bonds to finance long-term construction projects, the Legislature provided an additional $3 million for routine repairs and renovations.

As state revenue has grown in recent years, providing more funding options, legislators have sought to end the practice of using the sale of bonds that the state normally pays off over a 20-year period to finance routine repair and renovation projects.

Community colleges received a total of $250.9 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal year, starting July 1, from the 2014 Legislature, an increase of $11 million from the previous year.

That figure does not include the $23 million in bond funds for long-term construction projects. Community colleges received $25 million in bond funds in the 2013 session.

“We were hoping for $25 million again,” said Itawamba Community College President Mike Eaton. “But we are appreciative of the $23 million.”

The community colleges have a formula for divvying up the bond funds, based in part on student enrollment.

Fulton-based ICC is set to garner $1.72 million while Booneville-based Northeast is slated to receive $1.29 million. Northwest, based in Senatobia, but with branches in Lafayette County and also serving counties surrounding Oxford, will get $1.95 million.

Because the funds only go so far to fund often-expensive capital projects, Eaton said community colleges routinely must make a decision “to stack” bond proceeds from year-to-year to tackle larger projects.

“The good news is for the most part our college is in pretty good shape” as far as capital needs, Eaton said.

The college in August opened a new health science building on its Tupelo campus, which increased capacity in various medical fields, and is converting the health science building in Fulton to academic classes.

The five-year plan cites major needs for ICC as:

• $283,750 for repairs to the multipurpose building in Tupelo, which includes the cafeteria.

• $454,000 for repairs to the Technical Education Building in Fulton.

• $1.6 million for work on Buildings C and E in Tupelo.

Eaton said much of the work is needed because the buildings are older and need roof repairs and other renovations related to the age of the structures.

The needs cited at Northeast are:

• $3 million for career and technical buildings renovations.

• $3.4 million for Phrase III work on the Corinth campus.

• $3.3 million for Stringer Hall restoration and renovation.

At Northwest the cited need was $3.2 million for a cosmetology center.

Gov. Phil Bryant is slated to act on the bond package, including funds for community colleges, next week.

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