In a divided vote, the Southern State Community College Board of Trustees approved a $3.25 million contract to purchase 63 acres to construct a $14 million Brown County campus, and unanimously accepted an option for a donation agreement for 19 acres of property for an Adams County campus. However, the board moved forward to approve funding for the Brown County project, while Adams County is still under consideration.
Doors on the Brown County campus could open as early as fall 2014, according to SSCC Vice President of Business and Finance Jim Buck. The college would close the SSCC campus in Fincastle as part of the expansion.
Buck also said that a tuition increase will not be necessary in order to fund the expansion projects.
"I am enthusiastic about the college and the position that we are in tonight in order to move this forward," said SSCC President Dr. Kevin Boys.
Boys said the Brown County property, located at the corner of Brooks-Malott Road and state Route 32 in Mt. Orab, is "the most prime real estate location, maybe, in Brown County. It is visible. You will not be able to miss Southern State Community College if you're traveling to Cincinnati or from Cincinnati. The potential for the number of students around that site is pretty amazing."
The Adams County property is located at Moore's Road and Medical Center Drive, in close proximity to North Adams High School, Adams County Regional Medical Center, Adams County Cancer Center, the Moore's Road Business Park and the Seaman Dialysis Center.
"We see that as a very viable location," Boys said. "As in any kind of land that you're looking at, there are questions that we have. The board has identified some issues that they would like us to look further into in terms of the site itself, in terms of programming at that particular site and in terms of additional funding that we would need to accomplish at both campuses."
Boys said that he wanted to recognize the board for "being courageous enough to step out in a bold action like this," that he wanted to recognize the donors of the Adams County property, John Condon and Kent Gulley, and to recognize the late Ben Houser, a SSCC board member who passed away earlier this year and had been an early supporter of the expansion.
Board members Michelle Cimis and Rory Ryan, representing Highland and Adams counties, respectively, voted against the purchase and funding resolutions. Board member Paul Hall abstained from the vote for the Brown County property acquisition, saying that he is business partners with a partner of one of the current property owners.
Ryan said that the donation of the Adams County property is generous, and that expansion into Brown County is not congruent with the board's 2009 announcement that Adams County would be next to see SSCC campus development.
"First, I would like to reiterate Dr. Boys' words of appreciation to Mr. John Condon and Mr. Kent Gulley, who offered the gift of real estate to build a college campus near the Adams County Hospital along the Appalachian Highway. Their generosity of this prime location is greatly appreciated. My concern with moving ahead on a new Brown County campus reflects upon the Board of Trustees' announcement on Oct. 14, 2009 and a subsequent meeting with the Adams County Board of Commissioners that we were pursuing an Adams County campus," Ryan said. "Adams County has been an integral part of Southern State since its founding 36 years ago, yet remains the only county without a campus. In the past five years, Adams County has had almost 2,000 students enrolled at Southern State, more in fact, than Brown County, by an average of almost 70 students per year. The relocation of South Campus to Mount Orab will add approximately 25 miles to an Adams County student's daily commute. These are a few of the concerns I have shared with the board."
Cimis said that she has concerns over whether state and federal funding will be sustainable over the course of the project.
"We have free property. That is a lot different than $3.25 million," Cimis said. "We have free property, let's assess it and see what happens. My concern is if we see a drastic decline in federal and state funding. We need to give consideration if a million-dollar debt load is sustainable over 20 years when we're not sure of state and federal funding and our current economic situation. This project will only be a great success with continued long-term support from state and federal funding. Given our continued economic uncertainty in this community and globally, I cannot in good conscience support the Brown County expansion."
When asked by the Highland County Press if the college expected to break ground on projects in both Adams and Brown counties within the next year, SSCC President Dr. Kevin Boys said, "This option for development gives us up to a year to do a feasibility study, look at funding and program analyses," Boys said. "We hope that if not simultaneously, to do one (campus) right after the other."
During an Oct. 14, 2009 meeting, the then-board vice chairman Ralph Shell announced that SSCC would be investigating the possibility of establishing a campus in Adams County. In November 2009, three members of the SSCC board of trustees and then-college president Dr. Sherry Stout met with Adams County commissioners Brian Baldridge, Justin Cooper and Roger Rhonemus, along with Adams County Economic Development Director Elaine Collins, on Nov. 9, 2009 to discuss the college's plans for an expanded presence in the county. The college discussed two potential proposals, including offering courses near the county seat in West Union or along the Appalachian Highway (S.R. 32) in the northern part of the county.
Ryan said Wednesday that while he has concerns about paying $3.25 million for property when the college is being offered free acreage for development, he remains committed to furthering the SSCC mission of quality education for all five counties.
"These concerns notwithstanding, I remain cautiously optimistic that the college will, in due time, take action for an Adams County campus," Ryan said. "I commend Dr. Kevin Boys and Vice President Jim Buck for all of their considerable efforts and assurances as Southern State Community College begins a new and exciting chapter in being a 'first choice' college for Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette and Highland counties."
A college-wide facilities assessment conducted earlier this year by KZF Design Inc. of Cincinnati showed that SSCC’s South Campus in Fincastle would need nearly $3 million in improvements just to “bring it up to 2011/2012 standards.”
According to that report, South Campus, which is the oldest of the campuses, would need upgrades that would cost an estimated $2.9 million to bring the facility up to today’s standards. The facility, which was built in 1975, would need a new roof, new HVAC system, electrical upgrades, structural upgrades to correct rusting reinforcements that are causing damage to bricks and masonry, a system that would create better ventilation and new sewer treatment system in order to support any expansion.
Boys said Wednesday that the college was "shocked" by the finding of the facilities assessment of the Fincastle Campus.
"The last thing I thought I would be doing as a college president here at Southern State would be entertaining the idea of building another campus, aside from the campus in Adams County that we've been talking about," Boys said. "We were presented with a pretty compelling problem. Do we want to put $3 million into that particular campus, particularly knowing that it is somewhat remote in location? If you look at the population of Brown County you arrive at a pretty obvious conclusion, and that is Mt. Orab as a site. If you draw a 10-mile radius around Mt. Orab, or even go out 20 miles, you're entering the Cincinnati market and about a quarter of a million people."
Boys said that there are always circumstances that could arise that could prevent either project from going forward, such as an unfavorable environmental study on one of the properties - although that is not anticipated - and funding issues.
"If we would have a substantial donation, it would put both projects on the fast track," Boys said.
Boys had said during the meeting that Dr. Nicole Roades, Vice President of Institutional Advancement, will begin working with the SSCC Foundation to shift focus from mainly scholarship funding to include capital campaigns.
Regarding the concerns of Ryan and Cimis, Boys said that he trusts the college's financial planning.
"Jim Buck is one of the most conservative vice presidents of business and finances in community colleges in the state of Ohio," Boys said. "If Jim is comfortable with this, that gives great solace to this president and to most of the board members. This is a tremendous time to purchase real estate, and probably if the economy was better, we wouldn't have this opportunity because either the property would have already been purchased by someone else, or it would be cost-prohibitive. On that basis, the time is now."
Buck told the board Wednesday that he would be submitting a revised budget to them during the December Board meeting.
Boys said that the college expects enrollment to increase, which will help cover the cost of the expansion. However, Boys said that the board has also looked at "worse-case scenarios."
"We had to look at what would happen if our enrollment would decline, but if we had a decrease in enrollment, that would also result in a decrease in certain costs, such as a reduced number of classes. For both campuses, we want to take a careful look at what the campuses need to offer, which will take a better part of a year."
Boys said that they do not want duplicate programming at the campuses and also need to take a look at what is being offered at SSCC's closest competitors, such as University of Cincinnati in Clermont, Shawnee State University in Portsmouth and the local private colleges such as Chatfield College.
Buck broke down the finances for the Brown County project for the board, saying that there would be a $14 million bond issue for construction of the 50,000-square-foot facility, at $200 per square foot. The college would pay $1,030,145 at 4-percent interest over the course of 20 years. Although SSCC "will not be using state funds," according to Buck, the project has to be approved by the state controlling board. In September, the college made a land deposit of $32,500. If the purchase is approved by the controlling board following a Nov. 14 meeting, the college will pay the remaining balance of $3,217,500 on the 63.19 acres. Those funds will come out of the general operating funds.
"This entire project will not require any increase in student tuition," Buck said. "That's one of the most important things that the state is interested in, that you're not going to establish a new fee to pay for this facility. It's happened in the past, and we will not be establishing a new fee to pay for this facility. It's not to say that in coming years that there will never be a tuition increase because we do have inflationary cost issues, just like anyone out here in the economy."
Because this is considered a "replacement campus," the operating costs of Fincastle would be transferred to Mt. Orab. The overall figures, Buck noted, do not include the possible sale or lease of the Fincastle campus.
"We are planning to use our capital component," Buck said. "We do receive a funding stream for capital improvements from the state of Ohio. Our projections over the next 20 years is that average will be $420,000. We also plan to use about half of our auxiliary fund profits. The last 10 years, we've averaged $401,275, so we'll use about half of that. The last few years it has been about half a million or more."
Three percent of the general revenue budget will also be designated to go toward the facility.
"Historically, the college over the last 15 years has grown an average of 7.1 percent," Buck said. "You have a growing institution."
Regarding Adams County, Buck said that, "Southern State serves five counties. When you look at our south campus right now, we actually serve more students at that campus from Adams County than we do from Brown. We have better market penetration there. Adams County is very important to the college."
In order to proceed on funding for Adams County construction, Buck said that they would need to build a minimum of 20,000 square feet, which would be an additional $4.5 million.
"We're not in a position to do that right now," Buck said. "But it's something that we have clearly identified what it would take to get us there to building in Brown County at 50,000 square feet and Adams County at 20,000 square feet, which is a nice-sized campus to start with."
Prior to the recent renovations at Fayette Campus, Buck said the facility had 20,000 square feet, and the college would always keep future expansion in mind when adding to or constructing any facility.
Construction could begin in Mt. Orab in July or August, Buck said, with an estimated construction time of 24 months, which means that classes could start in fall 2014.
The board met in executive session for approximately 45 minutes to discuss the property acquisitions, which was followed by the following actions:
• Voted 9-0 to accept the option agreement for the donation of the Adams County property.
• Voted 6-2 to approve the contract to purchase the Brown County property, with Cimis and Ryan voting against it and Hall abstaining.
• Voted 6-2 to "approve a declaration of official intent with respect to reimbursement of temporary advances made for capital expenditures to be made from subsequent borrowings" to purchase the Brown County property. Cimis and Ryan voted against the resolution.
At the end of the meeting, the board met in executive session for approximately 30 minutes to discuss the "discipline of a public employee; to consider the appointment and compensation of a public employee." Mia Meucci Yaniko of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's Office joined the board during the second executive session. No action was taken following entrance back into regular session.
The first order of business for the board Wednesday was the swearing in of new board member Doug Boedeker of Fayette County. He was sworn in by Judge David Bender of Fayette County Probate Court.