Barton Community College hasn’t had any trouble booking its rural Camp Aldrich facility, at least on weekends, Dean of Administration Mark Dean said recently.
A fire in April of 2014 gutted the camp dining hall, necessitating construction of a new building. Since the facility reopened on March 31, 2016, it has again become a popular venue for summer camps, family reunions, weddings and Quinceañera parties.
“It’s pretty much booked for 2017,” Dean said, but only on weekends.
The fact that the site is being used is welcome news. With the new and improved dining hall, taxes on Camp Aldrich are scheduled to increase from $6,000 a year to $48,000.
“We have submitted a tax exemption request to the State of Kansas,” Dean told the BCC Board of Trustees on Feb. 14, when he presented his Camp Aldrich report.
Trustees for years voiced frustration that a college facility is taxed at all, but Camp Aldrich has always been a special case. Fifteen years ago a similar request for tax exemption was denied. However, recent court cases seem to favor the college’s request, Dean said.
He was still waiting to hear from the state this past week. Dean said he doesn’t know when the case will be reviewed, but was advised it could take up to six months.
Costly to maintain
“Camp Aldrich operates at a deficit and always has,” Dean said. After the new building opened, the college reviewed its pricing structure and raised the rates for weekends, when the facility is most in demand. If the tax exemption is granted, the facility could approach the break-even point this year.
But while the dining facility is often in demand, the rest of the 290-acre Camp Aldrich is not. It would take a huge financial investment to create the kind of facility that would draw larger camps or groups wanting to stay one or more nights, Dean told the trustees.
“You’d have to have a ‘hotel,’” or suites of three or four rooms for each family, and private bathrooms, he said. “I don’t know if you could ever get the money back.”
Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman noted that a feasibility study for better utilizing the camp was done in 2011.
All of the suggestions involved a substantial investment of resources with an unknown payback.
“I have gone over the numbers, and I’m very hesitant to invest money into Camp Aldrich,” Heilman said.
“Camp Aldrich has been utilized about as well as it can be,” said Mike Johnson, chairman of the BCC Board of Trustees. Area businesses might want to considered holding weekday training seminars there, he suggested, but even if the conference center is never a money maker for the college, it offers something unique to the service area, and that also has value.
“Yes,” Dean agreed. “I don’t think anybody else has anything like it.”