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EGCC trustees to move forward

STEUBENVILLE — Despite lingering questions surrounding the ouster of one administrator and the extended absence of another, Eastern Gateway Community College Interim President Mike Geoghegan said the board of trustees intends to proceed with building acquisitions in Youngstown while continuing to gather community input about the potential expansion of the Jefferson County campus.

Geoghegan, formerly EGCC’s chief financial officer, was appointed interim president Wednesday after a three-hour board meeting that concluded with word that former President Jimmie Bruce had been let go for “dereliction of duty and inappropriate management practices.” At that same meeting, the board extended the administrative leave of Bruces’ chief of staff, Jim Miller, pending completion of an internal review of items he allegedly expensed on his college-issued procurement card.

While the school is undeniably in transition, Geoghegan said there’s “no stoppage whatsoever in (the board’s plan to) move the college forward.”

“There’s lots of planning, everyone is very focused,” he said, adding the college has “a great cabinet, we have lots of confidence in the cabinet (the senior advisers) that is running the school.”

Geoghegan said no decisions have been for the Jefferson County campus, pointing out any expansion is “still in the conceptual phase.”

“We do have a subcommittee of the board established for it,” he said. “But at this point, we haven’t taken the next step yet, outside of getting community input and feedback and hearing from the students, what they’d like to see.”

In October, Bruce had hosted a community meeting to talk about the board’s vision for a phased development that eventually would almost double the footprint of the Steubenville campus. He’d said there might be a retail component — a restaurant, for instance — but whatever they did there would “have a strong academic component.”

It also would incorporate some sort of community space, he said.

“The board would like to see it happen, definitely,” Geoghegan said. “But it’s got to have the right mix, it’s got to have a strong student focus — something that could be a win-win for the college. The academic side, that would be a key component — whether it’s the health side through clinics, whatever, it has to be the right mix. It has to include academics and programs.”

Geoghegan said they got some “good ideas at the open forum” in October, and they’d like to continue that process and “just see what works, how it works financially.”

“We’re a ways away from getting a final solution there,” he said, pointing out work was completed earlier in the year on the new entrance and circular driveway.

“We had that $2 million improvement at the Gator Center,” he said. “And, there’s another capital bill working its way through the Legislature — at this point, close to $1.9 million out of that would go toward the Steubenville campus, mainly for internal HVAC-type work. There are a lot of old chillers and air handlers there, that sort of thing. But during the past three capital bills, we’ve probably spent more than $5 million on laboratories, the Gator Center (updates), fully WiFi-ing the campus and campus security,” a $500,000 card-based system for faculty and students. “We also plan to do the same (security upgrade) at Youngstown, but with bond issue proceeds.”

Meanwhile, Geoghegan said the board would like to use bond money to purchase three buildings in downtown Youngstown — Thomas Humphries Hall, located at 101 E. Federal St.; the health and work force education center at 101 E. Boardman St.; and its student services center, 139 E. Boardman St..

“Those are properties we’re leasing currently, old business offices and so forth,” Geoghegan said. “The board’s vision is to get control of them — acquire all of them — and create a real campus environment.”

The college’s massive parking garage, located across the street from the health and work force education building, “has always been a little problematic for the college — it needs lot of work.”

“We’ve got a good partnership with the Western Reserve Port Authority,” Geoghegan said. “They did the renovation on the old Harshman building where we’re running our health-related programs out of in addition to the main campus. They would take over the management of the parking garage — we currently have a parking manager there (but) we’re not in the parking business, we don’t want to be in the parking business — strictly the education business.”

The plan potentially involves “a lot of partners, and it’s sort of a complex deal to put together,” he concedes.

“But we have the financing team in place. We are ready to go to market (with) general receipts bonds pledged by the revenue of the college. We’ll use those proceeds to not just acquire the building, but make the necessary renovations. We want to put in a lot of security features, do more with lighting and the sidewalks need repair. It would all go for acquisition, renovation and enhancements. And at some point down the road we’d want to combine it with a capital campaign, a fund-raising campaign, to turn it into a real, urban campus.”

Fiscally, he said it makes sense. Debt service would be less than what the college currently pays to lease the three properties, he said.

“And, one of the other benefits we would get out of owning structures is we would qualify for money for future renovations out of the state capital budgets,” he said.

Geoghegan said appraisals are being done “and we’re going to go through the state of Ohio to get approval for the purchase.”

“Our target date is the end of March,” he said. “Right now, the board’s authorized a bond issue up to $15 million, but we think it will come in under $13 million. It would be a 30-year issue — we’d pay it back at a very low tax-exempt rate. So, we will actually have less out-of-pocket in debt service than we do with the current arrangements.”

He said it’s a logical progression for the college.

“We’ve been there 10 years, in a couple different sites before we settled in where we are now,” he said. “I think this will help establish us, let everyone know we’re there for the long term — that we’re investing in buildings, we’re there to (build) a permanent presence. This is the first step on that path.”

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