Money talks

By Matt Benoit and Emily Huntington

Horizon Reporters

A chunk of land – about 7.9 acres – was recently purchased for Whatcom Community College, at a cost of $4 million. It is the field located just behind the WTA station, at the southeast corner of Kellogg Road and Cordata Parkway.

The seller, Bank of the Pacific of Aberdeen, had taken over the property in November in a foreclosure proceeding.

College officials have been interested in the land for about 15 to 20 years, said Ray White, vice president of administrative services.  The college was offered the land a couple years ago for $7.9 million but declined at that time, However, the college did not buy the land. It was purchased by the Washington State Board for Community Colleges through a state capital fund comprised of money from non-tax sources, such as international student tuition, bookstore proceeds and facility rentals.

This purchase was made public in February at a board meeting, but no other formal announcement was made, aside from the recent article in the Bellingham Herald. White said the college wanted to keep the negotiations quiet because talking about it could drive up the cost of the land.

Could that money have been used to save the child development center from closing?

No, White said.“They’re two separate budgets.”

There is a capital budget and an operating budget, White explained. The land sale was made from the capital budget. The two budgets overlap in only one area: one-time costs for things like equipment, and paying off debt. The college did pay off debt this last year on  Kelly Hall.

President Kathi Hiyane-Brown said at a recent budget forum that the college is always looking at building new campus facilities. The next to be built is a learning commons, but because of very few capital dollars coming in right now, it likely won’t happen until 2016.

White said the property could be ideal for a performing arts building, but one of the concerns with that is that students would constantly be crossing the road. Another idea, though it is uncommon with community colleges, is campus housing. At this time, no definite plans have been made for the recently purchased land.

Operating budget

In the same meeting, tuition increases and areas in which the college could cut back were discussed.

For example, cutting back in supplies could save the college $25-50k.
“I’m using pens from Bank of America in my office already,” White said.

Ron Leatherbarrow, vice president for instruction, said that a couple programs have half the enrollment numbers they had five years ago, but, “I don’t think we need to think about eliminating programs.”

Tuition will go up another 7% in the fall for community colleges. That means that it will be about $84/credit.

President Kathi Hiyane-Brown said that legislature was kind to two year colleges – they could have cut more. Still, “they took away a lot of money,” she said. The $800k that the state took away was given back for some worker retraining, but it was earmarked. Money that’s earmarked doesn’t allow colleges to apply funds they get back where they think it needs to be used.

The slow march out of recession means colleges will most likely “continue to fight for resources” until 2012.

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