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City, NCK Tech say communication key

8/16/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Both sides agreed better communication is needed in the future.

Hays city commissioners invited North Central Kansas Technical College President Eric Burks to give a response to city staff concerns at Thursday evening's work session at city hall.

In a memo to commissioners before the work session, city staff expressed frustrations in dealing with NCK Tech. In 2009, the city entered into a five-year lease at the former Army Reserve building with the two-year technical college. In exchange, the college's students would help on certain city projects.

"We have had issues trying to identify projects that fit the technical college's curriculum," said City Manager Toby Dougherty, who met with Burks earlier in the day. "We as staff have been pleased, for the most part, with the outcomes on this. We have had strained relations at times, where things have not worked perfectly, been frustrated.

"Eric and I are in the process of trying to get through this."

Burks said NCK Tech recently was named the No. 6 two-year college in the nation.

"We're not used to issues dealing with quality, or lack thereof, because we typically have done very well in that area," he said. "Whenever I hear that, it's greatly concerning, and I want to get it corrected.

"We have had bumps in the road and generally try to work those out. I would characterize this as a great partnership; it's been mutually beneficial."

Burks pointed out the students enrolled at the college also provide an economic impact for the city.

"We do feel like there's a benefit to the city," he said. "The conclusion Toby and I came to today, we definitely need to improve the communication between the city and our campus. Communication, as we all know, is a two-way street.

"My overall assessment is this has been a very strong partnership.

"We hope you want to continue it because we certainly do want to continue into the future."

City Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV, who asked for the item to be put on the agenda, told Burks it has been difficult to communicate with NCK Tech in the past.

"I'm concerned," he said. "Our relationship is strained."

Burks said he personally has answered emails and returned phone calls since he became president last year, and after the meeting added the school has presented an annual report to the commissioners in the past.

"First of all, I'm committed to making this partnership stronger; we will communicate," Burks said.

After the meeting, Dougherty said he and Burks will make it work.

"I think going forward, Eric and I will make sure we can have the best possible relationship out of the arrangement here," Dougherty said.

"I just want to say I'm definitely committed to making this partnership work," Burks said after the meeting. "We feel like we're bringing a lot of value into the partnership. We greatly appreciate being able to work with the city."