Meaty Letter to Illinois Community College Board President Jeff Orbzut

McHenry County College can’t build its planned minor league baseball stadium with permission from the Illinois Community College Board.

There is such an approval letter ready to be sent.

A concerned McHenry County citizen has written ICCB president Geoffrey Obrzut a letter with “questions not yet answered.”

I have permission to share it with you, but the author doesn’t want his/her identity made public.

Here it is:

Dear Mr. Obrzut:

On August 9, 2007, I faxed and sent a letter to your office requesting that you withhold issuing your letter of approval to MCC until certain questions had been satisfactorily answered.

In discussion this with Mr. Smith on Friday, August 10, I learned that the letter will be issued this coming week. I appreciate your having taken my concerns into consideration.

There remains, however, the fact that while MCC’s administration has sought approval from your office and the City of Crystal Lake for its plans, it has failed to consult with District 528 residents. Although MCC’s President, Mr. Packard, told me there now will be some meetings for the public in the next few weeks, these have not been publicly noticed. Therefore, I would respectfully request that until such meetings have taken place, and you receive certification that this project has widespread community support, that you consider delaying the letter of approval from your office.

BACKGROUND: QUESTIONS NOT YET ANSWERED

In my research I have tried to pull together the relevant portions of MCC minutes and reports; ILCS [chapter 110/805, the Community Colleges Act], various provisions of the Local Government Debt Reform Act; and the Illinois Community College Board [ICCB] and ICCB Administrative Rules (April 2006), all as applied to the Capital Project Application that MCC submitted to ICCB in April 2007.

The State Board [ICCB] shall have the power and it shall be its duty to approve all locally funded capital projects…according to its administrative rules and standards. 110 ILCS 805/2-12 (c) Community College Act [the Act].

MCC’s proposed expansion comprises a health/wellness/fitness center and a baseball stadium to be used for athletic spectator sports.

Q. 1 Does the construction, operation and maintenance of such a stadium require ICCB approval?

The stadium would be an “Exhibition Facility” as defined in the ACT, to be constructed to be used primarily for athletic spectator sports and not a facility built to be used primarily for physical education instruction.

While it is clear that the health/wellness & fitness center come under ICCB’s oversight, it is not clear whether the stadium requires its approval or disapproval. (See definitions under Building Programs, 805/5-2 where “facilities” does not include land or buildings intended for athletic exhibitions.)

Why this matters:

On April 26, 2007, MCC’s Board of Trustees entered into a License Agreement with an LLC for the use of the stadium, minimum amount to come to MCC yearly for five years: $250,000. If we examine the cash flow analysis provided by EquityOne Sports Development, it is clear that there will be a shortfall in revenues in the initial years, insufficient to cover the annual debt service. Where will the additional monies come from to cover that debt service? Operation and Maintenance costs would also be a public burden.

How much will MCC have to pay in insurance fees to indemnify the purchasers of the debt certificates issued to underwrite the stadium’s construction? Will that indemnification cover all shortfalls? If not where would those [additional] monies come from? Will we see scarce tax dollars diverted from educational purposes in order to underwrite a private, for-profit concern?

In my conversations with Edward Smith, Senior Director of Systems Finances, ICCB, I have asked whether ICCB has approved any other stadiums within community college campuses. It appears that this would be the first.

[Q] 2 – Is the HWAC proposed consistent with MCC’s statutory purposes?

In its application MCC states that it meets the requirements of 110 ILCS 805/1-2 (e), but failed to provide any information supporting its conclusion.

Does this proposal provide courses in liberal arts and sciences and general education? Adult education courses? Courses in occupational, technical or semi-technical fields leading directly to employment?

In Section 1C of the Application, how the project will meet with educational objectives of the college, MCC responds:

“Will allow for dedicated classroom, lab and activity space…enable MCC to offer classes that meet the mission of MCC.”

However, if we look at the project’s square footages, we see 4,669 SF in classrooms; zero new labs, 15,685 SF in offices; and 10,348 in “support.”

We see more than four times as many SF in offices than in classrooms, no labs.

In Section 1C, supra, we read the ambiguous statement setting out what the project would accomplish:

[T]he Health and Human Performance indoor facilities and sports complex will allow for essential collaboration between [sic] three areas: athletics and recreational programming’ fitness center and Health and Human Performance.

There are no surveys or data to indicate what particular educational community needs are to be met in this complex, certainly not the mix required by statute.

Indeed, there is ambiguity. See the minutes from an April 23 Committee of the Whole meeting, where a Mr. Ardito states that ‘health career professionals go elsewhere for employment,” and Mr. Allerheiligen: “fitness center is “education-driven,” (forgetting that it is a non-credit offering) with Mr. Packard predicting that there will be a “cascading effect,”…”Mission first, and value-added second.”

Is MCC diverting taxpayer monies and properties to a commercial athletic complex/venture instead if reserving and dedicating these public resources to a more rigorous curriculum offering?

[Q] 3 – Has MCC awarded contracts prematurely, prior to receiving ICB approval?

ICCB approval is required prior to MCC’s awarding contracts for the proposed project or acquisition of land (Citation supra.)

However, we have learned that in September, 2006, MCC awarded a no-bid contract to EquityOne Sports Development for a feasibility study, also authorizing EquityOne to exercise overall oversight of the project. This implies that there is a contractual obligation with EquityOne.

In its Application MCC states that EquityOne is the project architect, its bid date 12/21/2006; revised bid date 2/16/07. However, on May 24, 2007, the Board appointed Cornerstone to be the architect of HWAC. Legat had been held out as the project architect at public hearings. For a public trying to identify to whom to address questions, this is highly confusing.

On June 28, 2007, the MCC Board of Trustees authorized paying Patrick Engineering $220,000.000 for work that is for “final PUD preparation and submittal, etc.”—work that should not have be contracted for until after ICCB approval is received.

Sincerely,

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The picture is of McHenry County College President Walt Packard.


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