The story began in 1969 when the original building was opened. From the beginning, the maintenance and usefulness of the edifice was challenging. The roof leaked from day one and the abundance of stairs and doors made navigating the floor plan a challenge. The lack of logical location of given/faculty’s areas is still apparent today. Ask anyone where the Nora Hagen Theatre is and they may say, “You can’t get there from here.”
In addition, the almost non-existent attention to the ADA issues still creates difficulties for those who have physical challenges. Examples are the small elevators, lack of off grade entrances, and almost no provisions for spaces where those in wheelchairs may attend events.
Other significant issues with the 1969 facility is the complete lack of insulation and great number of single pane windows. The energy loss in our Michigan winter is startling. The numerous entry doors cause great concern today for campus safety. I must confess this issue concerns me more than any other.
When one looks across the campus it is easy to identify spaces that are considerably out of date not used efficiently. Key examples are the library, theatre, art studio, and technology laboratories. Entering the library one has a feeling of the 1970’s and the obvious limited usage. Today students use electronic resources for their studies and desire group work spaces and a welcoming atmosphere, and yes, even the opportunity to have coffee.
The Nora Hagen Theatre is all 1969 circa, with the original worn vinyl upholstery and stained carpet but the most disheartening issues are the total lack of a sound system and current lighting technology. There is little wonder that it sees little use.
The current art studio space is makeshift on the north end of the concourse. While it has good natural light its renovation and the addition of a small gallery jetting out into the concourse will make the arts more engaging for all.
The proposed $7 million dollar campus renovation project will address all of the aforementioned needs and some exterior items such as parking lot rehabilitation and landscaping to address serious erosion issues.
The most sighted question raised in the survey is, “Why did the college let things go like this?” The answer is both easy and hard to answer. Over the last fifty-years, the college has added five additions to the original edifice. All of these except the Dale E. Gray Science Wing, were funded totally with normal college funds saved over time. There has also been millions of dollars invested in repairing roofs, updating HVAC systems, and addressing ongoing water and sewer issues. In just the last decade, more than $4 million dollars have been spent on these items.
These investments have used what hard fought funds the college has been able to save over time. The truth is that the three revenue streams the college receives – tuition, state aid, and property taxes are almost completely consumed by the annual operation of the college. It should not go without stating that the majority of the furniture and furnishings throughout the campus are worn and dated.
The college is at a crossroad in its history. Will we move ahead trapped in a facility that is inefficient, dated, lacks usefulness, is uninviting, and is not one to be proud of or do we seize the opportunity to make the improvements needed and create the college we need to position us for the future.