February 28, 2020

Trades academy advocates attempting to negotiate with Kirtland

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ROSCOMMON — A group of individuals pursuing the creation of a trades academy in the region say they have attempted to work with the Kirtland Community College Board of Trustees and President Dr. Thomas Quinn to consider establishing such an academy at the KCC Roscommon campus, but have yet to make progress with or receive indication of interest from the school. 

The group includes Roscommon County Road Commission Manager Tim O’Rourke, Roscommon County Economic Development Corporation Chairman Ed Bergeron and Roscommon County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Schneider. 

O’Rourke said the group is looking into various locations and means for establishing a trades academy, but they would prefer to work with KCC to utilize the Roscommon campus, which is currently scheduled to close in 2021. The majority of KCC classes and operations have already transitioned to the school’s Grayling campus.

“We’re trying to tell them, ‘We’re not here to compete with you,’” O’Rourke said. “This is a compliment. It fills a gap in our educational system.” 

Rather than diverting students who would otherwise be college bound, O’Rourke said the group is hoping to reach those who do not plan to pursue higher education and provide them as many trades options as possible. 

Quinn said Kirtland has actively worked to meet the demand for trades programs in the area and currently offers programs such as commercial driver’s license certification, automotive technology, welding and fabricating, technology management, computer numeric controlled machinist certification and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Furthermore, Quinn said the group has proposed a heavy equipment operator program as part of the trade school model, which he said Kirtland is currently looking into as a potential option. 

“We have the highest percentage of students in technical programs in the state,” Quinn said. 

While a large portion of those programs are offered at Kirtland’s Gaylord campus, Quinn said the school is working to expand availability. 

“We’re negotiating to provide students options to attend programs at the Grayling campus,” Quinn said. 

O’Rourke said the group has spoken with Quinn and members of the KCC board on multiple occasions and have approached them during public comment during several of the board’s meetings, but have yet to receive any positive or negative feedback on the matter. He said the group is open to considering different types of agreements for use of the property.

“Sign us a quitclaim deed, we’ve got it. Sign us a 50-year lease, we’ve got it. If you’re worried that it’s going to fall apart under our control, then put a buyback or giveback (clause) in it; that’s fine,” O’Rourke said. “Make us prove ourselves that this model works in five years; that we can find the partners.”

Quinn said he and the board are open to considering the group’s proposal, but he said he and the board have not seen the specific details needed to establish viability of their plan. He said the group indicated they would be willing to present a plan during the February meeting of the board of trustees, but that meeting has been cancelled due to a lack of quorum. 

“They have not provided us a business plan or a model or any specific kind of proposal,” Quinn said. 

The group has particular interest in the Roscommon campus because they believe that by transferring its facilities to Grayling and shuttering or selling the old campus, KCC is violating the trust of voters who approved a bonding proposal in 2014 stating in part that it was “for the purpose of: constructing, furnishing and equipping a new health sciences education center; constructing, remodeling, furnishing and refurnishing and equipping and re-equipping building additions and facilities at the college’s Roscommon campus … ” 

“That’s what everybody voted on in November 2014 — to furnish and refurnish and equip and re-equip the Roscommon campus,” Bergeron said. “That was the only geographical reference made in that ballot measure, so we think that Kirtland has an obligation, frankly, not to take all that money and spend it in Grayling, but to continue to nurture that facility instead. And so, as we transition it from what it’s been to the trades academy concept, we would like Kirtland to have some skin in the game to help make that happen, because it’s our money they’re working with, and they promised us it would be used at the Roscommon campus.” 

However, Quinn said the funds brought in from the 2014 bonding proposal are still being utilized at the Roscommon campus, including furnishing buildings with new equipment and general maintenance to facilities.

“We just put in new sidewalks and did repair of parking lots — anything that needs to be done,” Quin said. 

Bergeron said the individuals comprising the group experienced growing frustration seeing the gradual transferring of KCC operations to Grayling, culminating with the announcement by Kirtland last summer that it officially planned to close the Roscommon campus. He said the group came together shortly after that and has been attempting to work with KCC since that time.

“(Kirtland’s) 2013-2019 strategic plan — which is still available online — stated we need to make a long term plan for the Roscommon campus, and they’ve never done that,” Bergeron said. “Instead, they’ve approached each decision a step at a time with a focus of building new in Grayling.” 

Quinn said the future of the Roscommon campus is undetermined at this time, but he and the board are considering a variety of ideas and are open to proposals.

“It depends on what alternative uses we can find for it,” Quinn said. 

O’Rourke said in addition to addressing the KCC board at its meetings during public comment, he spoke at length with Quinn and board chairwoman MaryAnn Ferrigan about the group’s proposal, but he has yet to see any indication of interest or disinterest. 

“We think the best use for that campus is a trades center,” O’Rourke said. “We’re convinced of it, and we’d love to work with you to make that happen, but we need some kind of communication back from you and that board. Something positive or negative. If you want to say no, say it now so we can move on.” 

On whether establishing a trades academy in the region in the near future is a viable endeavor, the group believes it can put together the resources and staff fairly quickly and affordably, as staffing a trades academy would not be as expensive as hiring instructors in a traditional college setting.

“In the state of Michigan, I’m a master in road building,” O’Rourke said. I have 4,000 hours — that’s all you need to have — in road building and road maintenance, so I can go to the Secretary of State and get a certificate that says I’m a master trainer, and I can teach every one of those classes, and I’ll do it for free. And I’ll find other people who will do the same. All you need to have is 4,000 hours in that trade.” 

O’Rourke said one of the greatest needs in the area which they have identified is for individuals with CDLs, which is something the group believes they would be able to provide. Ideally, he said the academy would provide CDL training to all attendees regardless of their area of focus in order to ensure they have work opportunities when they complete their programs.

“Under the new CDL rules, as of this year you have to go to a CDL school,” O’Rourke said. “We were training our own people (at the road commission) and then sending them to take a driver’s test by a certified person, then they would hand them approval to go to the Secretary of State to get their license. Now you have to go to a certified school, but what we found out was that because we are a public entity — a road commission — we can as a group of road commissioners certify a CDL school.” 

In order to qualify for state funding, the trades academy would have to be accredited. O’Rourke said that is one reason why the group is interested in Kirtland’s participation. However, he said the group is willing to pursue partnerships with other schools or organizations if necessary.

“We just need (Kirtland) to make a decision,” O’Rourke said. “Are you open to letting us take over that campus and create something, or are you fixated on mothballing it and selling it at the end of 2021? Because we may not be around by 2021. We may make this all happen somewhere else if we have to. If you tell us no, it doesn’t mean that we’re done with the trades school, it just means we’re going to have to find a different place. All of us are sitting here because we want to do it at Kirtland. That’s our number one choice, and we really hope they see the light.”

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