HIGHER EDUCATION – Preparing for the future – Fox Valley Technical College looks to expand facilities, programs

Posted on Dec 5, 2011 :: Industries
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

For a hundred years, Fox Valley Technical College has been providing education and training to area residents, and now the college hopes area residents will be able to help it expand and enhance those services to meet the needs of the future.

The college is proposing a number of development projects to build on key educational areas, including public safety, health sciences and transportation. The estimated cost of the projects would be $65 million to $85 million and would require a public referendum, which is planned for April 3. The tax impact per $100,000 of property value would range from $12.50 to $18 annually.

College officials know it’s a sensitive time to ask the public for money. But they also know that the demand from the community for the best technical education only continues to grow, and they know what kinds of skills area employers are demanding from their workers.

“We’re obviously created to be a very community-based operation here … that is all built on what employers need in the workforce and how our programs can prepare people for the jobs and the career paths that exist right here in the region,” says FVTC President Susan May. “We’re always thinking about where do we go next, and how do we adjust to the needs and the demands of the marketplace that we’re here to serve.”

Many of the projects have been on the drawing board for years, May said, but the economic downturn in 2008 caused the college to put things on the shelf for a while.

“We just felt the timing was not right to go forward, although the needs haven’t gone away,” May says. “In fact, our needs have only grown in terms of the people that we’re serving here at this college.”

But now college officials hope the timing is right. FVTC has seen about a 30 percent enrollment growth during a three-year period starting in 2008 and last year served almost 53,000 people in the community. Demands by employers for the most highly skilled, technically trained workers only continues to grow. And the college is currently borrowing at an interest rate of 1.31 percent for capital expenses such as equipment and upgrades.

“We don’t expect that the price of building these facilities is going to go down from here, number one, and we don’t think that we’ll be able to get

our taxpayers a better bang for the buck from an interest-rate-on-borrowing perspective than we could right now,” May said. “What we’re trying to do is stretch those dollars as far as we possibly can to make it a good return on their investment in this planning process.”

The college’s last referendum, which was held in 1998 and gained wide public support, added the JJ Keller Transportation Center, the DJ Bordini Business & Industry Center and expansion to the graphic arts and printing technology areas at a total cost of $25.6 million. Christopher Matheny, vice president and chief academic officer of instructional services, says a former college board member suggested recently that the last referendum “completely transformed the institution.”

“We’re not looking for complete transformation, but we are looking for complete preparation for what it is that we’ll need for the next 15 or 20 years,” he says.

The proposed projects include:

» A Public Safety Training Center. To be built on 75 acres of land owned by the Outagamie County Regional Airport, the facility would add an outdoor tactical training area for police, fire and EMS. Appleton Police Chief David Walsh says such a facility is critical to training new public safety officers who need experience with real-life scenarios to help improve their ability to react to situations on the job. Having such a training facility offers a safe, controlled environment to give officers a realistic setting without impacting the community, Walsh says.

And with Pierce Manufacturing (which makes firefighting trucks and equipment) right down the road, it makes sense for the county to look at a lease agreement with the college since groups come to Outagamie County for training at both Pierce and FVTC, says Tom Nelson, Outagamie County Executive.

» Purchase and expand the Chilton Regional Center. By purchasing the currently leased Chilton Regional Center and adding a small expansion, FVTC could better accommodate enrollment in programs unique to the region. These programs have grown 36 percent since 2008, and programs for displaced workers in the area have contributed to the need for expansion.

» Purchase land to allow for growth in Oshkosh. A 10-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in Oshkosh would help accommodate future program growth.

» Add a Health Simulation Center, which would help prepare health care students for realistic, real-life scenarios they might not always encounter on a regular clinical rotation.

Both the Public Safety Training Center and the Health Simulation Center will offer interdisciplinary training so that health care, law enforcement, firefighters and EMS students can work together in the same space as they would in the real world, Matheny says.

The facilities are intended to help both students who are beginning their careers and continuing training for those who are already out in the field, May says. “It’s critically important that they keep up on some of the latest approaches.”

» Remodel the main campus. Besides remodeling, the campus would create an Academic Success Center for more instructional space and academic support.

» Remodel the agriculture/horticulture area. This would accommodate the 87 percent growth agriculture classes have seen in the last four years.

» Expand the JJ Keller Transportation Center. The current center was built after the college’s last referendum in 1998.

“We’re running our program in that building from essentially 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the time that they’re not running, the trucks are in maintenance … so we really are up against physical capacity,” Matheney says.

After reviewing results of public surveys and reports, FVTC’s Board of Trustees decided in mid-November to proceed with the public referendum. Officials plan to hold public meetings throughout the nine-county district that the college serves.

“I think the college has a really good track record of being good financial stewards, understanding that we’re not going to go to the taxpayers every year or every other year to ask for this kind of investment,” Matheny says, “but to be making that investment when it’s prudent, when it’s necessary.”