Monday, February 15, 2016

Why Rome?

I have been asked this question more than I can count over the last few months — “Why are you spending $30 million on a construction project at the Rome Campus?” Depending on how much time I have to respond, the answer is multi-faceted. The immediate response is important to clarify that construction projects like this are financed through the capital budget and are completely separate from the operating budget. So the financial constraints we face in the operating budget that result in difficult decisions about programs, services, and personnel are unrelated to major building projects — we are not allowed to save jobs with construction dollars.

The short answer is the Rome Academic Building is long past its usefulness — I use that term loosely, because it probably was useful as a county hospital when it was built 90 years ago, but four patient rooms (with knocked down walls) does not a modern classroom make. Last year, the ceiling in a vacant office collapsed due to heavy rains that had leaked (flooded) inside and brought the dropped ceiling to the floor. This building is inconsistent with the level of excellence we strive for in every other corner of MVCC. 

The long answer is centered on the students and programs at the Rome Campus. The nearly 1,000 students who pay the same tuition as other MVCC students deserve a modern learning environment. Contrary to the belief of some, most of these students would not just “go to Utica.” The student profile at the Rome Campus has an older average student typically with more family and work responsibilities and cannot easily accommodate an extra hour of roundtrip commuting. With space constraints at the Utica Campus, the unique programs in Rome (hospitality, educational sign language interpreting, health information technology, surgical technology, truck driving and airframe and powerplant) could not easily relocate to Utica. Additionally, the Rome Campus is located in the geographic center of Oneida County, just one mile from the Griffiss Business and Technology Park that is home to more than 60 businesses with more than 6,000 workers along with one of six federally approved sites in the country to test unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in commercial airspace — making the redevelopment of the MVCC Rome Campus a sound strategic investment in the future of the region. 

A little longer answer is rooted in our Facilities Master Plan. The original buildings on the Utica Campus are nearly 60 years old with classrooms, floorplans, and heating/cooling systems in need of modernization. We have made a number of investments to modernize the classrooms (all with full technology capacity) and renovate countless areas across the campus. However, no “swing space” exists to implement a comprehensive approach to modernize the campus. The Master Plan calls for a strategic domino effect that calls for a new building next to Payne Hall. The new building would allow for much of Payne Hall to temporarily go into the new building to completely renovate Payne Hall. The Academic Building would then go into Payne Hall over two phases to completely renovate the Academic Building. This sequenced approach would require a multi-year commitment from the County and State easily totaling over $100 million over a five-year period — an amount that’s difficult to comprehend in the current economic environment. 

With one nanotechnology firm getting ready to break ground and the unmanned aerial systems sector still in the early stages, a $30 million investment by the County and State was a welcome and proactive opportunity. Fast-forward into the near future with one or two more chipfabs being built, the nanotech supply chain amplifying the local economy, a large UAS manufacturer or two landing at Griffiss International Airport, and a multi-year $100 million investment in the Utica Campus of MVCC — the most important workforce development asset in the region — is a little easier to comprehend.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.