With the approval of a bond measure by voters on the May 17 ballot, Linn-Benton Community College plans to build a new agricultural center that would allow an expansion of the school’s training capabilities in areas such as animal sciences, crop and soil production.
The bond, which would be limited to $16 million, would also allow needed renovations, including the reopening of a childcare center, and repairs to aging facilities, including the replacement of outdated boilers and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.
The bond, if approved, would also provide matching funds for an $8 million appropriation that was approved by the State Legislature.
The Philomath News sent questions to LBCC last week in an effort to provide additional information to voters on the bond measure. Following are responses from Jennifer Boehmer, who serves as the executive director of Institutional Advancement and the LBCC Foundation. The News asked that each response be limited to no more than 200 words. The only editing of responses involved typos, grammar and newspaper style (rules on abbreviations, capitalization, no bold or italicized words, etc.).
1. Some people might be hesitant to approve a bond measure with the country currently experiencing challenging economic times. What’s your argument for why LBCC needs this bond at this time?
LBCC: Especially as an institution that is totally dedicated to lifting up our local community, we understand affordability — which is why we would not be coming to voters right now if this were not such a rare opportunity to realize a critical investment in student success at a very affordable rate.
At 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, we would have the chance to fix issues that have reached a critical point of need: We can reopen a childcare center on campus, repair aging buildings in serious condition and construct a new Agriculture Center that will fill a major gap in providing technical workers to our local farming community.
What’s more, if we pass this bond, the state has promised to kick in an additional $8 million for our ag center — that is how important it’s viewed as a strategy for regional economic success. The state funding has an expiration date, and if we do not pass this bond, we will not receive it.
Overall, there is not much you can buy for 7 cents these days … but this is all we are asking in order to meet urgent needs that will affect the community for generations to come.
2. What are some of the main points that you want people to know about LBCC’s desire to build a new Agriculture Center?
LBCC: LBCC is already a leader in community college agriculture in Oregon and beyond. In fact, LBCC’s animal science program attracts students from many states but the college’s Equine Center is bursting at the seams. We no longer have room for breeding, training or management instruction, and the facilities will soon become dangerous. We are at a critical point and are now forced to rely on neighboring farms to get students the hands-on instruction they need. At the same time, our local farmers are in desperate need of technical workers to support other kinds of livestock, as well as crop and soil production.
In addition, our education partner, Oregon State University, sees an LBCC program in veterinary-technical training as a critical step in ensuring more students can get on a path to veterinary medicine. This new Agriculture Center would allow LBCC to meet all of these needs, plus provide community space for 4-H programs and other K-12 agriculture groups that the community currently cannot does not have.
Finally, what makes this such a rare opportunity is that the State Legislature will contribute $8 million to this project if we pass this bond.
3. One of the projects that falls under the bond measure relates to LBCC’s aging facilities. How far back do some of these facilities go and what type of updates and repairs are needed?
LBCC: Most of LBCC’s Albany buildings were constructed in the 1970s, and many need critical repairs. This bond would pay the cost of these basic upgrades — including increasing accessibility for people with disabilities, addressing safety hazards and deferred maintenance, and making upgrades to outdated boilers and HVAC systems.
By making these repairs to aging systems, we estimate we could save between $5,000 to $10,000 a month in operational inefficiencies. One exciting aspect of this upgrade work is that LBCC would be able to renovate the childcare center at the main campus in Albany. This would provide much-needed childcare services for students and employees, while also re-establishing the childcare center as a hands-on learning space for early childhood education students — a high-demand employment sector in our current economy.
In addition, it would allow the college to update and expand the Learning and Career Center at the Benton Center in Corvallis which provides space for tutoring, testing and career counseling. With those renovations, the center could serve more students without increasing staffing as well as better accommodate community partners such as the Small Business Development Center and the Parenting Success Network.
4. Can you explain how the matching appropriation from the state is such an important component of this bond measure passing?
LBCC: Passing this bond means Benton and Linn County will get an extra $8 million to construct a new Agriculture Center — ensuring that this state money is spent right here in our community while creating jobs and improving property values — rather than in other parts of the state like Portland or Eugene.
This bond will also make the college eligible for additional state and federal childcare grants. Essentially, that means that for the tax investment made by our local community, the state will increase that investment by one-third — so it is a tremendous value!
Conversely, if we do not pass this bond, we will not receive the state appropriation. People also might like to know that the matching appropriation comes with built-in accountability steps, including the criteria that we construct the ag center in three years or less, so our voters can be assured that they will see a payoff for this bond support quickly and directly.
5. If this bond measure doesn’t pass, what’s LBCC’s next move to try to reach these goals that you have for facilities and programs?
LBCC: As always, LBCC is committed to working with our community partners to come up with creative solutions to meet real, local challenges. But if this bond doesn’t pass, we simply cannot move forward with expanding agriculture programs, making basic repairs to aging facilities, or reopening our childcare center.
The beauty of this opportunity is it accomplishes all of these things at once through a measure that is affordable for our local citizens, and unlocks an $8 million investment from the state that we would otherwise not receive. This is an opportunity to “raise all boats” in our community, with built-in accountability such as independent auditing to make sure our tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.
It is simply an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up — for current students, but also for generations to come and the health and vitality of our community in the future.