For the past three years, Barton Community College has started its fall semester with full dorms – housing some students at Great Bend hotels for the first weeks of classes. Now college trustees are being asked to consider replacing the two oldest dormitories with one new building that will hold about 35 more students.
Dean of Business Management Mark Dean presented information Thursday at the trustees’ monthly study session, saying a new dormitory would cost about $4 million. Because it would be paid for using student housing revenues, it would also be necessary to raise the rates. Currently, students pay $4,880 a year for housing and 19 meals a week. Nine other Kansas communities charge more, and seven charge less. If BCC raises its rate to $5,300, only Colby, Hutchinson and Butler County will be higher at today’s rates. Colby Community College charges $6,020, while Seward County Community College is lowest at $4,320. All of the student housing plans offer 17 to 19 meals per week. Dean noted that some of the other colleges will probably raise their rates this year.
“One of our issues is lack of capacity,” Dean said. “There are other issues.”
Student housing capacity is 292, but there were 316 students at the start of the semester. After moving more than 20 students into rooms at America’s Best Value Inn and Days Inn, the college provided a van that brought them to the campus every morning and back after the evening meal.
The oldest dorms, Bluestem Halls and Meadowlark Halls, were built in 1977 and 1978. They are the least desirable to students, the most expensive to maintain, and they don’t have the safety features of Sunflower Halls or the newest and more popular building, Cottonwood Halls, built in 1999.
The proposal would be to get rid of the two oldest dorms and provide an apartment for the assistant student housing director, who now lives in an old mobile home behind the dorms. “We could keep the Meadowlark buildings in place for overflow and for short-term issues,” Dean said.
Once approved, it would take about 18 months to build a new dorm.
Diane Engle, BCC director of student life, said she surveyed student housing residents and most said the college needs more student housing and it should be similar to the Cottonwood Halls. Students weren’t sure they could pay another $250 a semester for additional housing, though. However, several students indicated they would be able to pay the higher price, and some also indicated they would be willing to pay $1,500 a semester more for an “apartment-style” room with private bathroom and kitchenette.
Any action will require approval from the board of trustees. Those who spoke Thursday expressed an interest in pursuing the new building, along with a proposal to refinance the outstanding debt on Cottonwood Halls at the same time for greater savings. (The board has already approval refinancing the $3.2 million balance to save about $230,00 in interest.)
“I think this is an opportune time,” trustee Robert Feldt said.
“I’d like to look at us making it potentially larger,” chairman Mike Johnson said, with trustee Mike Minton agreeing. “The trustees are going to want to look at several different options,” Johnson continued. “It’s much cheaper to build it now than to try to add on something later on.”