After 20 years of searching, including more than two years of active due diligence around possible sites, Monroe Community College achieved a victory for our community on Feb. 12 when the Monroe County Legislature approved the acquisition of Eastman Kodak Co. property for our new downtown campus. In so doing, legislators put the strength of MCC's process and the needs of our students and community above the pull of politics. For that, the college is grateful.
It is clear that some continue to question MCC's choice and to work against it. That is certainly their right, but when they choose to do so by spreading misinformation and calling into question the legitimacy and integrity of the due diligence process that led us to Kodak, I must respond to correct the record.
Some have said that the project should not move forward until all of the state funds are secured. In truth, more often than not state funding for multiyear public projects is bonded as needed, year to year. These projects, including ours, are already approved locally and at the state level in master facilities plans, an indication of commitment to the project. Why are some holding MCC's downtown campus to a different standard? (And to correct continued misinformation, $25 million in state funds is already in place for this project. Of that, $13 million requires a "name change," since it is labeled "Renaissance Square," but such a change is not uncommon in the state Legislature.)
Some would have the public believe that MCC might be required to supply heating and cooling to property owned by Kodak if the company abandons that property. Setting aside this dire prediction of Kodak's future, which itself is questionable, why would anyone be required to support a neighbor in this way? Our heating and cooling arrangement is still being negotiated, but one thing is clear: The heating and cooling systems that we will acquire with this purchase are scalable, and the MCC and Kodak properties will be separated entities.
As some with very public voices use them to question MCC's motives and decision-making, we are forced to ask some questions ourselves.
Why was it impossible for WinnCompanies-over more than two years of process and over a dozen meetings-to generate an in-budget proposal for MCC?
Why have some public voices given such credence to the WinnCompanies' last-ditch proposal when it inexplicably cut $28 million out of its original plan? (If a contractor building your house suddenly told you that it could be done for two-thirds of the original estimate, all the finishes would be the same, it would be just as energy-efficient and the builder was throwing in a free garage, wouldn't you be asking tough questions?)
Why have some sought to portray as rushed and secretive a process that took over two years; engaged hundreds of community stakeholders through tours, public meetings and presentations; involved SUNY, the city of Rochester, Monroe County, and all members of the County Legislature; and has been publicly documented and covered in the press and MCC's own downtown campus website throughout?
Why do our students-many of whom come from the poorest of neighborhoods in Monroe County, from struggling families, from difficult beginnings-not have the right to a campus that is (literally) designed to prepare them for better futures?
While some in our community attempt to call into question the financial reasoning behind this project, it is worth noting that throughout MCC's 50-plus years, our budget and our fiscal decision-making have been subject to review by our board of trustees (with one student-elected and nine appointed members), Monroe County administration, two county legislative committees, the full Monroe County Legislature, and the SUNY board of trustees.
I cannot think of another single local entity-private or public-that goes through such extensive financial oversight. Anyone who questions the rigor and integrity of MCC's approach and adherence to fiscal responsibility and the importance we place on providing value and return on investment to local and state taxpayers simply has not been paying attention.
In fact, in a time of ever-escalating college costs, MCC has consistently maintained tuition that is among the very lowest in SUNY. As the region and our residents continue to struggle during this slow economic recovery, MCC has cut millions of dollars of costs to maintain a flat budget. As the needs of our region demanded, we have increased partnerships with both businesses and community organizations to increase our effectiveness, efficiency and public service.
So I ask one final question: What should taxpayers expect from MCC?
They should expect a community college that exerts due diligence and responsible decision-making in all matters. They should expect a community college that is consistently seen and ranked as a state and national leader.
They should expect a community college held up as a model by their governor, recognized in Washington, D.C., as a leader in workforce development, and highlighted by national policymakers for its data-based decisions. They should expect a community college that helps students transfer to more than 400 universities or find employment with more than 450 different companies. They should expect a community college so effectively linked to local employers that over 90 percent of graduates in career programs find jobs locally. They should expect a community college with award-winning faculty and alumni. They should expect a community college where success in the classroom is equaled outside the classroom and in service to our neighborhoods. They should expect a community college that places the quality of its academic programs and its commitment to the full diversity of its community above rhetoric and politics.
They should expect Monroe Community College.
On behalf of MCC, I thank all of you who have so diligently supported us in our two-decade search to find a campus that meets the standard this community deserves: one that balances fiscal responsibility with inspiration. At MCC, we turn our students' dreams of success into the reality of a stronger, better and more vibrant community for all of us.
Thank you for helping us make that happen and for your support of a new downtown campus for our students! As they keep telling us, it's time to move.
Anne M. Kress is president of Monroe Community College.3/1/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.