Angela Garagiola | Staff Writer

Photo by Angela Garagiola
Photo by Angela Garagiola

Have you ever attended an event in the Nest, only to have the speaker disrupted by people walking by?

Do you have trouble finding quiet study space on campus?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you are not alone.

Many students at Century feel that space, especially quiet study space, is hard to find. That could be changing.

In the spring and fall of 2013, the Student Senate surveyed students on the East and West campuses to gauge if students would be willing to pay for an expanded Student Center and more study space, and how much they thought would be reasonable to pay.

The spring 2013 survey sampled 461 students. 71 percent said they would be willing to fund an expansion, with the majority saying that a $3-$5 fee per credit was feasible.

The fall 2013 survey sampled 365 students. Even more students said they would be willing to pay for an expansion; 79 percent, with the majority again saying the fee shouldn’t be more than $5 per credit.

Currently, enrollment is declining. This is a big issue for the college. How is an expansion within our means with budgets being cut campus wide? On the other hand, if Century doesn’t make renovations to modernize, how much longer can the school continue to compete with other institutions?

Perhaps these questions were weighing on students’ minds, because when a third survey was emailed to students in Feb 2014, the response was quite different. There were 609 respondents. 72% of online students were not willing to fund the expansion. 62% of traditional students were also against the project.

Tim St Claire, 20, of Hugo, Physics major and Vice President of the Student Senate attributes this to a misunderstanding.  “It’s important to remember the context of who will be affected by this. The way the survey was worded led students to believe they personally would be paying for the expansion. In reality, there are several more steps that need to happen before fees would be assessed to students.”

Photo by Angela Garagiola
Photo by Angela Garagiola

The Senate has proposed that Century request a revenue bond to pay for the expansion.

If a revenue bond is requested, it would be a couple years before students see these additional fees, probably when construction begins in 2017. Few students who had a say in the expansion will still be at Century by then.

What exactly is a revenue bond, and how does it work? MNSCU describes it as an IOU; money borrowed from the state to build and remodel non-academic buildings. St Claire explains, “It’s a loan that students pay back over 20 years through student life fees. The college can’t touch the bond money for anything other than the expansion, and the revenue bond cannot be paid for by the college.”

By law, revenue bonds are only allowed to be paid back by students through fees. Currently, Century charges $18.08 per credit in student fees. The revenue bond would add to that; the current estimate is $4.75 per credit, but that could fluctuate some depending on enrollment.

Revenue bonds have long been available to four year institutions, but two year colleges have only been eligible for them since 2008. Revenue bonds have been used at Anoka Ramsey Community College to build a wellness and fitness center, at St. Paul College to build a parking ramp, and at Normandale for a student union and wellness center. In the past, Century has used a revenue bond to pay for the parking lot.

On March 5, the Student Senate held an informational meeting regarding a possible revenue bond expansion project. The project would add an additional 10,000 square feet to the existing Student Center. The result would be a two story student center complete with a health services office, large multipurpose room and plenty of study space. There will also be funds allocated to the East Campus for a lounge and study space, to be located near the cafeteria.

Then, on March 12, representatives from the various student clubs met to vote whether or not to request a revenue bond to expand the student center areas. Before the vote, students addressed their various concerns about committing future students to paying back this bond.

Gao Vang, 23, of St. Paul, is currently majoring in Business Management. Even though she won’t be at Century when the fees kick in, she is mindful of future students’ money. “People come to Century because it’s more affordable than other colleges. Every bit of money added does count. If we cost as much as other schools, we may end up losing students.”

Anthony Carlson, 20, of Forest Lake, studying Secondary Education, views things in a different way. “This expansion is not for us. It’s for future students. It’s about attracting new students.”

The student clubs, as representative of the students, voted yes to the revenue bond expansion project. A recommendation will now be sent to the college president. If President Anderson approves, it will go to MNSCU for a final review, before a bond is requested from the State Legislature.

Photo by Angela Garagiola
Photo by Angela Garagiola

There is a rush to get this done, as St Claire explained, “The State Legislature runs on a biennium. Odd years are budget years, even years are bonding years. If we don’t get the proposal submitted, we will have to wait a couple years. During that time, not only will tuition rise, but so will construction costs. It is in the best interest financially to invest in this now.”

When making the decision to propose the expansion, St Claire said the Senate visited other community and technical colleges to compare their student centers with Century’s. “Although Century is the largest two year institution in the state, our student life center can’t hold a tenth of [enrolled students]. This expansion is needed to bring Century up to par with the competition and attract future students.”