Campus plan has schools anxious

By Harold Gwin

Area career and technical centers want to see how the proposal will affect them.

YOUNGSTOWN — Some of the educational partners who helped Eastern Gateway Community College become a reality this fall say they weren’t informed that efforts are under way to give the college a central campus in downtown Warren.

“It seems like all the plans have changed,” said Robert Faulkner, president of the Trumbull Career and Technical Center governing board.

Eastern Gateway was created without a main campus, with the state pushing a plan to offer classes at locations across Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Jefferson counties, primarily at county career and technical center schools and the former Jefferson Community College.

Eastern Gateway just began offering classes this fall and will begin its spring term Jan. 11.

Faulkner said he was taken by surprise when it was announced that Eastern Gateway could now have a main campus in Warren by next fall.

“I guess that’s not the way partners want to find out,” said Edna Anderson, superintendent of Columbiana County Career & Technical Center, who said she first learned of the main campus plan when U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, announced it to the news media last week. “That is bit of a disappointment.”

She questioned whether Columbiana County residents would be willing to drive as far as Warren for classes.

Even Eastern Gateway officials said they were unaware of the plan until the day before it was announced.

Ryan made the announcement last Wednesday, saying that he and Gov. Ted Strickland plan to locate the main campus in Courthouse Square in downtown Warren. He said at the time that details of the plan have yet to be worked out.

Heather McMahon, a Ryan spokeswoman, said Monday that the announcement was a commitment from Ryan, but it doesn’t mean the downtown Warren campus is a done deal. The governor and Ohio’s chancellor of higher education were involved in the initial discussions, she said. Ryan has now begun meeting with those affected by the plan, she said.

Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said the announcement was just a commitment by Ryan and the governor to take EGCC to the next level.

It happened to fit well with the governor’s search for a way to make some significant investment to assist economic development in the Warren community and provide an educational option, she said.

Eastern Gateway, which still lacks a board of trustees, set up partnerships with the area career and technical centers and Jefferson (now its Jefferson County Campus) to use their facilities for classroom and laboratory space because it had no campus. The idea was to take education to where the people are, organizers said.

“We’ve been part of the process from the very beginning,” said Richard Scarsella, member and former president of the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center governing board. “We were caught by total surprise [by Ryan’s announcement],” he said, adding that creating a brick-and-mortar institution that might compete for students and funding wasn’t part of the plan.

“We agreed to help develop a virtual institution. What we agreed to is not what has developed. This is a radical departure from what was proposed to us,” he said.

Representatives from the three career and technical centers as well as the Youngstown city schools, whose Choffin Career & Technical Center also is an EGCC satellite campus, said they are awaiting information on what the campus plan will do to their arrangements with the community college.

Eastern Gateway President Laura Meeks put out a statement assuring the centers that their facilities still will be used.

“Eastern Gateway Community College will continue to hold classes at all six locations in its service district — Choffin Career & Technical Center, Youngstown; Columbiana County Career & Technical Center, Lisbon; Jefferson County Campus, Steubenville; Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, Canfield; Trumbull Career and Technical Center, Warren; and The Valley Center, Youngstown,” she said.

The college is proud of the partnerships it has forged with the career centers whose leaders have been very supportive and open to the college’s using their classrooms and labs, she said.

“The career centers are a valuable resource to the college because we can use their fully equipped labs for classes such as chemistry, biology and welding. And, we will continue to use these facilities and work in partnership with the career centers to provide higher-education pathways for their students and the communities that surround the centers,” she said.

Meeks added that the college is looking forward to working with Ryan and Strickland on securing a location for a college campus in downtown Warren.

Ryan, in making the announcement, indicated that discussions about the central campus idea weren’t widespread but developed from conversations he and Strickland had separately about Eastern Gateway.

The plan is to lease a building initially and expand as demand warrants, he said, adding that he’s looking for federal funds to help finance the arrangement as early as fall 2010.

Having a central campus likely would reduce the need for the satellite locations now being used, he said.

The initial focus was on just getting a community college for the Mahoning Valley. Now that it’s here, the next step is getting a free-standing building as a campus and developing a community around it, he said.

Ryan’s announcement was met with support from ACTION, the faith-based community organization that has been pushing for a central, comprehensive campus for the college since the community college idea began developing.

ACTION got 4,000 Mahoning Valley residents to sign petitions supporting its position and presented them to state and federal officials, saying the scattered-site model didn’t meet the needs of Valley residents.

The plan also drew praise from state Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd.

“This decision represents an important opportunity for economic growth in Trumbull County. When you combine Youngstown State, Kent State University’s Trumbull Campus and Eastern Gateway Community College, we have tremendous educational resources to serve the needs of the Mahoning Valley as we develop a work force for the 21st century.”

But it drew criticism from state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, who expressed disappointment with the selection of downtown Warren.

“My office was told over and over by Chancellor [Eric] Fingerhut and the governor’s office that there would be no home for the college, and, that if there were any changes, we would be notified,” Hagan said, adding that no such notification was received.

He suggested that, in terms of population to be served, Youngstown and Mahoning County are more suited for a central campus location, and he questioned why the campus announcement was made through a federal office when the bulk of the funding request will have to pass through the Ohio Legislature.

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