JJC takes a look back to evaluate while moving forward
BY BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org August 15, 2013 7:26PM
The Joliet Junior College Renaissance Center. | File photo
Updated: September 17, 2013 8:25AM
Joliet Junior College is reassessing the value of some of its older ventures even as it plans a $70 million bond sale to embark on new construction for the future.
One of those older ventures, the Renaissance Center, got a particularly harsh review from a couple of board trustees Tuesday night before the divided board voted 4 to 3 to go ahead with the bond sale.
Trustee Tina Markley said the Renaissance Center has lost at least $1.1 million from 2007 to 2012 and questioned whether management of the downtown banquet facility really had a grasp of its finances.
“That’s the known loss,” Markley said. “We don’t know how much loss they had.”
Trustee Barbara Adams, another “no” vote on the bond sale, pointed to the latest monthly results from the Renaissance Center and said losses at the facility in June at $73,000 were twice what they were in the same month a year ago.
“I’d like to see less of a loss rather than more,” Adams said. “The numbers are doubling. I find that troubling.”
Other services being reviewed by the board are the Early Childhood Center, a day care center available for employees, students and the community; and the physical fitness center, which also is open to the community.
“We know that they are losing money, and we want to address those issues,” board Chairman Andrew Mihelich said. “We’re really not afraid to do that in public.”
Mihelich then said he wanted to add another to the list — JJC’s international studies program.
The programs under review became part of the discussion about the bond sale as Markley questioned whether the college should take on new debt before dealing with problems it already faces.
“It’s irresponsible as a board to continue building when we have all these unresolved financial issues,” Markley said.
She also pointed to a downtown campus building that is under construction even though JJC does not know if it will ever see $25 million in state money that was part of the financial plan to fund the project.
But board Vice Chair Jeff May said the college needed to get moving on the two construction projects that would be funded with the bond sale.
He said those projects — a multipurpose building on the main campus in Joliet and expansion of facilities at the Romeoville campus — will serve the college for decades.
“Everyone on this board knows that there is a need for this facility,” May said, pointing to the multipurpose building, which, he said, would upgrade athletic facilities that he described as substandard. “We are ripe for building. Now is the time to build.”
Maybe the prime example of JJC’s need for space is that graduation ceremonies have been held at Lewis University in Romeoville for the last three years. The multipurpose building will provide space for graduation as well as new athletic facilities to replace those that May said have become “substandard.”
Despite the losses being examined at the Renaissance Center, day care and physical fitness facility, “We’re in a solid financial situation. To suggest otherwise is just ludicrous,” he said.
May said the JJC tax rate is the third-lowest among Illinois community college districts. Tuition and fees, now at $107 per credit hour, are in the mid-range of community college tuitions across Illinois, May said. It will go up to $111 per credit hour in the spring semester with a $4 increase in a capital assessment fee that will be used to pay off the construction bonds.
Meanwhile, May said, JJC needs to prepare for more growth as the economy improves. He said the college can expect more people to be moving into the district and a return of the growth trend that preceded the last recession.
JJC enrollment has grown from 9,454 in 1988 to 15,589 in 2012.
May said the college is “overdue for construction” and should not be deterred by revenue issues in a few of its programs.
“We can handle any ups and downs over the next few years and still get this right,” he said.
Trustee Robert Wunderlich noted that not every program at a community college is going to be a money-maker.
“There are a lot of other areas in this college. They lose money. But it’s part of being a public institution,” he said.