NMC Plans Integrated Student Hub, Eyes State Dollars To Help
By Craig Manning | July 6, 2021
Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) is eyeing its next big construction project: a renovation of the Osterlin Building that would combine student services from at least three different buildings across campus into one centrally-located “integrated student service hub.” The project will cost an estimated $5.6 million and would renovate 26,000 square feet on the first floor of the 57-year-old building – though the college is looking to fund part of the project through the same state government program that helped pay for the $14 million-plus renovation of the West Hall Innovation Center.
The integrated student service hub would combine a range of student services under one roof, including admissions, financial aid, student financial services, advising, tutoring, counseling, international outreach, health, veteran services, and student life. Currently the Osterlin Building houses some but not all of these services.
“It’s about logic and efficiency,” says Troy Kierczynski, NMC’s interim vice president of finance and administration. “I’d say efficiency is really what we're trying to bring to our students. And in turn, we hope it's a better experience for them. And then because of that better experience, we hope that it might help more students stay on campus, or stay in class, and complete through the end [of their degree programs].”
According to Kierczynski, the college has been trying to get the Osterlin project funded by the state’s joint capital outlay appropriations subcommittee since 2017, when that same committee approved funding for the West Hall project. Per the state, Michigan’s capital outlay process helps finance “the acquisition, construction/renovation, and maintenance of facilities used by a state agency, public university, or community college.” Kierczynski says the process typically follows an annual funding cycle, with community colleges and other eligible entities submitting projects for consideration each year. Due to COVID-19 and its impacts on the budget, however, the state has not accepted any formal capital outlay submissions for the past two budget cycles.
The lack of a formal capital outlay process has so far held NMC back from setting a concrete plan for the construction of the student service hub, but Kierczynski expects the project will move forward soon with or without state funding. After conversations this past spring with State Representative Bradley Slagh, who also serves as vice chair for the joint capital outlay appropriations subcommittee, Kierczynski says Slagh asked NMC to submit a project informally.
That informal submission took the form of a letter dated June 18 and sent to the two chairs of the subcommittee – State Senator Ken Horn and State Representative Matt Maddock – in which NMC President Nick Nissley shared details about the project and the impact it would have on NMC students.
“Uniting these services at one central location will increase student retention and completion through an improved student experience,” Nissley wrote. “Although the Governor’s office is not accepting capital projects, we seek your consideration for funding this important initiative,” Nissley concluded. “State support through capital outlay or other federal recovery funding would greatly accelerate our pace and scope.”
NMC seeks $2.8 million from the state, which would cover half of the project’s budget. Even without state funding, though, Kierczynski says NMC is committed to uniting its student services offerings at Osterlin. That building has some vacant space that the college is looking to use since the NMC library was relocated from Osterlin to West Hall upon that project’s completion. That factor, combined with the expected benefits of having a central student service hub – as well as necessary ADA improvements at Osterlin that would be built into the project design – has NMC looking at multiple strategies for getting the renovation funded.
“The last project we got [funded by capital outlay] was West Hall, back in 2017,” Kierczynski explains. “Prior to that, our last capital outlay was 2005. So it’s not like these things come up all that often. I think this is likely our last plug to the state to try to get this project funded…and we want to really utilize this asset we have at Osterlin. So if we don’t get state funding, we are going to look to pursue this project with our own resources.”
“We have funds available from money we financed back in 2016, when we built North Hall,” Kierczynski adds. “We have $2.2 million of capital funding that we anticipate using over the next year, particularly toward this project. And then we would be looking also at private support, philanthropic support, and potentially some of our reserve money [to cover the rest of the cost].”
If NMC’s informal bid for capital outlay funding somehow does result in some money from the state (“We aren't feeling confident that we're going to get state funding,” Kierczynski notes) it would allow the renovation to move forward as planned, whereas the project would likely go back to the drawing board to be scaled down if NMC were to self-fund the entire price tag.
As for timeline, Kierczynski actually expects that things would move ahead more quickly if NMC doesn’t get state funding.
“If for some reason we do get some funding this year in the state’s budget, there would be basically a two-year process before the project is complete,” he explains. “The first year, we would have to go through a planning authorization process, where we have a year to submit formal schematic documents regarding the project, and then the state reviews those and approves them. And then we probably have a year or so of construction. So if we did get some something approved in this year's budget, we would probably be looking at a final completion date of October 2023. If we don’t, perhaps the project would be done even sooner, because we wouldn't have to go through that one-year planning phase required by the state…we would probably be looking at completion date of October 2022.”Comment