Many MCC hopefuls oppose $42 million expansion
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When Chris Jenner was faced with a decision between running for re-election to the Cary District 26 school board and continuing a bid for the McHenry County College board of trustees, he chose to leave the Cary school board behind.
Jenner originally filed for both races. But after facing scrutiny about whether he'd be able to serve in both positions, he decided to stop his re-election campaign and focus entirely on the college race.
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"At this point, I think the focus needs to be on the main issues in the McHenry County College race," Jenner said. "The ill-advised expansion, the fact that they want to issue $42 million worth of bonds without voter approval — those are the things I want to focus on."
Jenner isn't the only candidate in the race for three, 6-year seats on the college board of trustees who chose to file because of the expansion proposal.
Current trustees are quick to say the board is still in the early phases of the project and nothing has been decided yet. But several candidates are wary of the work that has already been done.
The proposal is for a $42 million Health Sciences Education Building that would include a public health club and new classrooms. Trustees are waiting on the results of a feasibility study into how the college might fund the facility and whether there is enough demand for it.
Carol Larson, one of two incumbents in the race, said authorizing a feasibility study does not mean trustees definitely will build the building. The study itself will let the board know its options.
"Right now, one of the big growth areas in jobs is the health field," Larson said. "We need to get on board with training those people."
Thomas Wilbeck, a challenger in the race, said he is totally against the expansion proposal. He said the college should instead figure out how to better utilize the space it already has. Wilbeck does not like the possibility of funding the expansion with alternative revenue bonds, which will only cushion taxpayers from the cost of construction if enough money comes from commercial means in the new structure to finance it.
That's a component of the project to which candidate Mike Smith takes particular offense.
"Alternative revenue bonds are really nothing more than an opportunity to end-run a referendum," Smith said. "It's kind of the modern day example of taxation without representation."
Smith is a resident of Lakewood, where residents had to foot the bill when RedTail Golf Club wasn't as successful as projected.
Arne Waltmire agrees with Smith. He said if the college wants to spend $42 million to add on to the college, officials should have to get approval from voters.
"I'm not against building but if the revenue falls short then people are going to be very upset, and rightly so."
The other major issue candidates have with the expansion plan is with the feasibility study itself, which is being conducted by Power Wellness, a company that could end up operating the health club.
But William Scott Alford, an MCC graduate and continuing education student, said the expansion is a good idea.
"I don't understand why people are so against expansion," Alford said. "The college needs it. The college needs life."
Barbara Walters, the second incumbent in the race, said trustees are charged with looking into the future and evaluating the needs of the community while balancing the desires of taxpayers. The health sciences facility design, Walters said, is still being researched and very likely could change, but unlike her challengers, Walters does not oppose the plan.
"I am an absolute advocate of the expansion," Walters said.
Molly Walsh, another trustee candidate, said she believes the nursing programs may need better facilities, but the college should scale back its proposal. She said the college is moving too quickly with its financial decisions, citing the $690 million long-range plan that includes the $42 million health club as well as trustees' decision to raise the tax levy this year.
"Everybody's sitting here thinking this is a train that's going out of the yard with no brakes," Walsh said.
Erik Sivertson, who is running for the MCC board of trustees race as well as the McHenry Elementary District 15 board, did not return phone calls for comment.
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