Camp Aldrich has seen better days, officials at Barton Community College said Thursday. The once-profitable conference center owned by the college may be ready for a reboot.
Barton’s board of trustees discussed Camp Aldrich issues during its monthly study session Thursday. Only three trustees were present, but no quorum was needed because no action is taken at study sessions, chairman Paul Maneth said.
The conference center is situated on 290 acres, located two miles north of K-156 between Claflin and Cheyenne Bottoms. With a classroom/meeting facility/dining hall, cabins and a swimming pool, it is billed as a relaxing setting for camps, retreats, receptions, conferences and recreational events. It also has an Adventure Based Leadership Education course, and teaching ABLE classes has been a significant source of income in some years, Dean Elaine Simmons said.
There is one full-time employee to manage the complex, and in the summers the college hires three or four students to work as lifeguards, give horseback rides, mow and clean.
President Carl Heilman told trustees, "it would require a substantial investment," to research new ways to use the facility. Buildings also need to be upgraded, Maneth said.
There’s also a problem with the unpaved township road leading to the camp. Dean Mark Dean said he’s had discussions with township trustees — who weren’t aware the college actually pays taxes on that piece of property — who’ve suggested they may need some help maintaining the road. Physical changes may be in order to end drainage problems that can turn the road into a "lake" when it rains.
Dean said the college is restricted in how it uses the facility, because of covenants on the land. It does have an oil lease, but there are no plans for drilling a well at this time. Any development along those lines would also be limited. "We have to leave it available for public recreation," he said. Anyone who takes over the property would face the same restrictions.
Kansas Wildlife and Parks could manage the land, but it’s unlikely that will happen, trustee Robert Feldt said. "We’re stuck with Camp Aldrich into the future, unless KWP would take it over."
Maneth said the trustees will need to take a hard look at Camp Aldrich in the future, because it isn’t the only college facility that needs maintenance and upgrades. "We have to begin to prioritize," he said.
However, all three trustees at Thursday’s meeting (Maneth, Feldt and Don Learned) said Camp Alrich is worth keeping.
"I think the community really takes pride in it," Learned said. "We’re not going to sell or close it. It’s a wonderful piece of property."
"I’ve always felt that Camp Aldrich was a tremendous resource for the college and the community," Feldt said. He approved Dr. Heilman’s suggestion to get advice from an outside consultant, but added, "without spending a lot of money."
"I’m not saying we close it," Maneth said, but added, it will take more money to make the conference center more profitable and more usable. At its peak, the complex brought in $79,000 in one year, but now it loses money some years. "We need more information. Dr. Heilman, I’d ask that you and your staff think about the challenges that have been presented today," he said. More study and discussion is sure to come.