Lease on city agenda
By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
North Central Kansas Technical College is set to renew the lease for its Big Creek Technical College if the Hays City Commission approves it Thursday.
The college has occupied the former Army Reserve facility for five years and taught carpentry, electrical technology, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning. The commission might extend its stay two years.
The city allows NCKTC to use the building as a campus for no rent in exchange for assisting with public projects. The college has constructed a shooting range house for the Hays Police Department, renovated office space for the Parks Department, built gazebos, made a podium for the commission's chambers, repaired roofs, hung steel siding and performed smaller tasks.
The renewal process comes after the college and commission resolved miscommunication in their arrangement last summer.
Eric Burks, president of NCKTC, said the problem arose because the city's expectations for the college did not align with how the students are prepared.
The issue was fixed when city staff understood the students' strengths.
"It was moving away from just having us do projects that were not within the curriculum that were beyond the skill and ability of our students," Burks said.
Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager, said the college's previous president, Clark Coco, set those hopes. The two groups got on the same page with clear conversations.
"I think it's all agreed to by both parties now that he overstated the ability and capability of what they were able to do," Dougherty said. "We went into the arrangement with that expectation, and it was only after a few years of realizing those abilities and capabilities weren't there, we reopened the communication with the college and realized that expectations just weren't based in reality."
Burks said the Big Creek campus has served the public's interest. The collaboration has allowed the college to supply technical professionals in the area.
"We have them both at Beloit now and in Hays. We've been able to grow those programs and contribute graduates to the workforce in the Hays region," Burks said. "It was a direct response to the need of the community."
The potential two-year lease allows for flexibility in how the property is used. Keeping the campus might be vital to maintaining the programs' presence in Hays.
"With the condition of state funding the way it is, we don't have the ability to build our own building and expand that way," Burks said. "So, if we couldn't locate another place to operate those programs, then we would probably have to entertain closing them down until we could find something else."
There are approximately 50 students in the programs at the Big Creek campus, and the maximum enrollment is 65.
Dougherty said the property cannot be sold for private development and must be used in the public's interest. City staff is pleased with the arrangement and communication with the college, he said.
Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said he would not oppose the two-year extension, but he would not support a longer lease. The expectations of city staff and the commission have not fully been met, he said, and the podium was the one project he valued.
"Most of the work it's provided, with one exception, has not been of great quality," Schwaller said. "With that said, it is a teaching institution, and we think this will benefit them and (we) should probably just go forward with it."
It is important to support technical education in the area because everyone does not pursue an education from a university, he said. The college provides on-the-job training and sets up students to have a successful career.