Thursday, March 29, 2007

Officials find ways to fund FCC projects

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Though funding for a $6.6 million art center addition at Frederick Community College was scrapped several weeks ago by county staff, officials are saying this week they may be able to squeeze out some funding for the project after all.

As the Frederick County commissioners continue to revise the six-year budget plan for construction projects, they have decided to bring plans for an art center at the college back on the list for 2008-2013.

The art center along and the $9 million Advanced Workforce Center for construction workers and truck drivers, were among the first projects to be pushed off the staff-recommended capital improvement plan, so that the county could stay on track with public school construction and renovation funding.

The Advanced Workforce Training Center is not included in the 2008-2013 capital improvements plan, because commissioners did not feel comfortable financing a brand-new project before public schools, which have been waiting for years to get construction funding, according to Frederick County Commission President Jan H. Gardner (D).

But commissioners have offered to give Frederick Community College $300,000 a year to lease an alternative space for the construction and truck driving programs that would take place at the center.

‘‘We try to find some sort of compromise with FCC,” Gardner said. ‘‘It’s important for people to know that we have identified an alternative.”

According to the latest version of the county Capital Improvement Program, FCC will get money for a student center and classrooms in 2008. A science hall renovation will be funded in 2010 and followed by another renovation in 2011.

The student art center addition will have to wait until 2012, when the county will be able to use money from an unallocated fund of $12 million.

Additional funding may also become available, if the county commissioners vote to raise the recordation tax in Frederick County.

‘‘We are not putting the FCC projects in the beginning of the CIP,” Gardner said. ‘‘... Their enrollment growth is still lower than ... in public schools.”

Frederick Community College president Carol Eaton said she appreciates the commissioners’ efforts to incorporate the needs of the college into their plan.

‘‘The commissioners have a very difficult time setting priorities,” she said.

‘‘They need to juggle and make difficult choices. What we can do is remind them of our needs. ... The commissioners have always been very supportive of the needs of this institution.”

With money to lease a building for the Advanced Workforce Center, the college will be able to consolidate some its welding, carpentry and other construction trades classes. The classes now take place at different county locations and have waiting lists.

The college will equip the leased building using a $1.9 million grant it received from the U.S. Department of Labor. The truck driving center will have to wait until FCC finds a way of funding the construction of its own building.

The situation is not critical, but raises the question if the college’s needs have outgrown available public-source funding.

As the student population at the college continues to grow, it may be time for the college to look for funding from private sources and small businesses, Eaton said.

‘‘Community colleges are changing,” she said. ‘‘We may have to tap that resource.”