Technical college’s proposal for $49 million in academic and facility upgrades hinges on referendum
By Ed Nadolski
Editor in Chief
A new public safety training center eyed for Gateway Technical College is the centerpiece of an expansion plan up for consideration on the April 2 ballot.
Voters in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties will be asked whether Gateway should be allowed to borrow $49 million through the sale of bonds to fund the new $15.6 million training center as well as expansion and renovation projects at Gateway’s Elkhorn, Kenosha and Racine campuses.
It is Gateway’s first referendum since 1988 and the result of recent studies conducted by the technical college to help ensure it is meeting workforce training needs in the three-county area, according to Gateway officials.
“Keeping our regional economy competitive is dependent on Gateway’s ability to produce and sustain a highly trained and skilled workforce,” President and CEO Bryan Albrecht wrote in a letter that was mailed to district residents recently.
According to Manoj Babu, associate dean of business for Gateway, the expansion plan was developed in consultation with business and community leaders with insight into local workforce needs.
“The question was: What are we doing to take Gateway to the next level,” Babu said Monday in a presentation to the Burlington Rotary Club. “This is a response to employer needs.”
The bottom line
If voters approve the $49 million in borrowing, the tax impact on each $100,000 of property value is $9.73 annually for a period of 20 years, or 81 cents per month.
“While we respect the cost, we believe the payback to you, the residents, is even greater,” Albrecht wrote.
He contends Gateway’s responsiveness to employer needs is key to keeping the regional economy humming.
“While Gateway has always focused on preparing students for the workforce, we need to continuously align our education and training with industry standards and expand and diversify our programs and services,” Albrecht wrote.
Because technical colleges are restricted to $1.5 million in capital improvements every two years at each campus, a referendum is needed to make the sweeping improvements planned by Gateway, according to Jayne Herring, director of marketing and communications.
“For us to be responsible and nimble and respond to employer needs, it’s tough (under those restrictions),” she said. “This is the best way we think we can do that quickly and responsibly.”
Gateway has hosted a series of listening sessions regarding the referendum in recent weeks, but the sessions have not been well attended, Herring said. College officials, however, have or are in the process of meeting with local councils, boards, organizations and chambers of commerce throughout the district. Herring estimated Gateway officials would make 40 such visits to explain the proposal and answer questions.
She said people have been generally supportive of the proposal with few negative comments.
Approximately $39 million of the proposal is for new and expanded academic programs with the other $10 million earmarked for construction of a student center in Kenosha and energy efficiency upgrades at the older facilities in Racine in Kenosha.
Here’s the breakdown:
• Public safety training facility to be built in a central location of 50-70 acres. The center would provide new and expanded training opportunities for law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers. It would feature a three-block simulated city (similar to a Hollywood movie set) for life-like training exercises, classrooms, a firing range and an emergency vehicle operation training course.
The cost is $15.6 million, including $11.6 million in land and buildings and $4 million in equipment.
• Expansion and renovation of Elkhorn campus to allow for additional academic programs. Among the new programs/facilities are a food service program and lab; a veterinary technician program and lab; and a new CNC machining program and lab. The plan also includes expansion of facilities for the campus’ hospitality program and welding labs.
The cost is $13.6 million, including $10.1 million for expansion and remodeling and $3.5 million for equipment.
• Renovation of Racine campus to include a new fresh water resources lab. This would include a new freshwater technician program, which is an emerging regional industry.
The cost is $2.5 million with $1.8 earmarked for remodeling and $750,000 for equipment.
• Remodeling of the Kenosha campus to include expansion and renovation of the student services center with repurposing of vacated space for an interior design lab, studio space and a new barbering program.
The cost is $10 million with $7.8 of that total earmarked for the student services center.
• Administrative center and energy efficiency projects. These include the updating of aging heating, cooling and lighting equipment, and expansion of administrative areas.
The cost is $7.3 million with $5 million of that total earmarked for energy efficiency projects.
The actual wording of the Gateway referendum questions that will appear on the ballot is:
“Shall Gateway Technical College District, Wisconsin, be authorized to issue, pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds or promissory notes in an amount not to exceed $49,000,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of capital expenditures for projects which are included in the District’s facility plan consisting of constructing new buildings and facilities; adding to, upgrading, remodeling, and improving existing buildings; acquiring furnishings, fixture and equipment; and acquiring and improving property?”
For additional information on the proposal, visit http://www.gtc.edu/gateway-expansion-proposal.