An Ellinwood man who attended Thursday’s study session of the Barton Community College Board of Trustees had questions after listening to discussion on the college’s Camp Aldrich facility near Cheyenne Bottoms.
"Does this board have a vision for Camp Aldrich?" Dennis Carson asked. If so, the former owner of C&V Home Improvement continued, what is it? If the board doesn’t have a vision, why not?
The question of what to do with the former Scouting campground — now a haven for corporate retreats, family reunions and the annual Camp Hope for children with cancer, has plagued trustees and administrators for some time. A summary compiled by Dean of Administration Mark Dean earlier this year showed the facility needs upgrades, but it’s no longer bringing in as much income as it once did. To make matters worse, some Camp Hope campers had to be relocated to college housing this year after bats were discovered in two of the cabins.
Last month, Camp Hope committee chairwoman Judith Calhoun from Topeka sent a letter asking for assurances of improvement — saying the association’s 28-year history could be in jeopardy.
"We ... may be facing the need to consider other camp sites," the letter stated.
"The condition of the facilities is an issue. Based on infection control requirements, it is not acceptable to have immune-compromised children using outdoor restroom facilities. Two of the cabins used to house campers at Camp Aldrich do not have restrooms. In addition, the overall cleanliness of the cabins, kitchen, pool house and dining hall has drastically deteriorated over the past few years.
"All in all, Camp Aldrich is showing its age. If a significant investment is not made in the facility, the Camp Hope committee will be forced to find another location to host Camp Hope."
The letter also listed enhancements "with the dollar value well over $100,000" that have been made at Camp Aldrich over the years by donors with an interest in Camp Hope: A bath house, basketball court and goal, Melani’s Garden (a landscaped area for reflection), trees, air conditioning, playground and a fire pit have been added. Although the donations were made for the benefit of Camp Hope, Calhoun wrote, "many other camps and groups have benefitted from these enhancements as well."
Calhoun’s letter indicated representatives from the American Cancer Society and Camp Hope are willing to discuss the matter with Barton trustees, and it is their hope that issues can be addressed. However, the Society cannot provide any funding associated with necessary changes, she said.
College trustees didn’t have answers at Thursday’s meeting, but said they hope to know more in the coming weeks. The college has hired an outside consultant to consider how Camp Aldrich can best be used and marketed, and what the cost would be, said Dr. Paul Maneth, chairman of the board of trustees. "We’re trying to gather information and get an objective look at it."
"So you’re doing a feasibility study?" Carson asked. When Maneth said yes, Carson continued, "So it’s mostly a money thing."
"That’s some of the thinking, sure," Maneth said. "We need to look at the whole operation."
Trustee Mike Johnson said the trend for corporate retreats was a big draw to the camp 10 years ago. "That trend has gone away now.
"I’ve thought for many years that’s a hidden gem out there," Johnson said of the facility.
Carson voiced his agreement with some of those statements. "You can’t throw money until you have a plan," he said. Carson indicated he himself has something in mind, but didn’t elaborate.
Camp Aldrich is still used — especially for week-long camps scheduled from April through July — but in the poor economy church groups and other renters have shortened the number of days they rent the camp, Dean said.
Trustee Don Learned wanted to know what is being done to improve the road that leads to Camp Aldrich. Dean has been in contact with township trustees and there are efforts being considered to make the road more passable, especially in wet weather, he said.
Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman said he wrote a letter to Calhoun, which she received this week, but the American Cancer Society hasn’t responded yet. Among other things, the college is interested in a more specific account of the desired improvements. Heilman also spoke of trends, one being the rise of online education, which make traveling to the rural campsite less desirable than it once was. The camp is centrally located to Kansans — a fact that appeals to the Camp Hope committee, according to Calhoun — but for some purposes the Internet is now a viable way for bringing people together from different locations.
"We’ll have a very strong idea by February where we want to head," Johnson said.