The following is an open letter to the citizens of Colby and Thomas County from Dr. Seth Carter, President of Colby Community College…
Greetings from Colby Community College.
We hope everyone is doing well. Recently, we formally launched our campaign for the “Big Blue Barn.” This has led to a series of questions from intrigued community members. The first and most common question is, “What is the Big Blue Barn?” Because of the questions and potential concerns around the facility, we decided it would be most appropriate to address them via an article. This will cover the what, when, where, and why of the Big Blue Barn.
Let’s start with the “what.” The Big Blue Barn is an athletic practice/intramural facility. Our proposed building will be approximately 18,000 square feet and divided into three areas that will be practical and accommodating for the institution’s various needs. As the name implies, it will be a metal facility with a concrete floor. This is not a competition facility and would not allow us to hold competitive events. The first of the three sections will be a wrestling area. One of our struggles is that our current facility is inadequate to accommodate a full wrestling team. This new area will hold two wrestling mats that can be rolled up and lifted to the ceiling. The rubberized floor will allow for intramural competition and activities. We are also exploring the possibility of placing two basketball goals in the area.
The second section features a full weight room in one half and men’s and women’s locker rooms in the other half. A storage area will be above the locker room. A challenge of the institution is our inability to accommodate the needs of the Fit Lab users. We dedicated resources to making the Fit Lab a more viable weight room, which has ultimately been very successful. However, we developed a new problem where our athletic teams have the area occupied nearly every day and most evenings. This created issues for our general student population and community members who want to work out in the area. The purpose of creating a new weight room is to provide a dedicated space for student-athletes, so the Fit Lab is available for others to use.
The third area will have a turf surface to accommodate baseball, softball, track, and a potential soccer team. Drop-down nets from the ceiling will allow baseball and softball to take batting practice. For cross country and track teams, there will be a track around the entire perimeter of the facility. Lastly, as we look at the vision of the institution, adding a soccer team in the near future makes a lot of sense.
When will the endeavor begin? We are currently compiling and completing a design/build concept. A request for proposals will go out by the end of October 2018 with the intention of breaking ground in March 2019. The goal is to have the facility completed by August 2019. The design/build concept strategy allows the institution to hire a general contractor who is responsible for hiring the architect and engineers. The anticipated cost of the facility is approximately $1.3 to $1.5 million. One of the common questions we receive relates to the variance in anticipated cost. Currently, we are dealing with unpredictable steel prices due to the proposed and imposed tariffs.
The next question is, where? The proposed facility will go on the site of the old baseball field. We want to utilize the space because of the minimal dirt work and its proximity to campus. Having the facility close to our dorms would allow maximum use of the Big Blue Barn.
Why do we need a facility like this? Colby Community College is the only community college in Kansas without athletic facilities on campus. This has created challenges in not only the recruitment of students but also in preparing for competition.
The next logical question is, why create a facility that has a primary impetus of serving student-athletes? Colby Community College has a little more than 1,400 students this semester. Approximately 175 are student-athletes, but this number ranges from 170-220 students. Anyone who knows me understands how I feel about athletics. I believe they are vitally important to community engagement and attracting diversity to our campus; however, I never lose sight that a student is a student before becoming a student-athlete. In the last academic year, we had 43 student-athletes who made NJCAA All-Academic teams, meaning they had above a 3.6 GPA. Not only do these young men and women excel in their respective sports, but they also excel in the classroom.
Student-athletes enrich our campus and perform a tremendous amount of community service. They also help support institutional auxiliary operations (i.e., living in our dorms, utilizing our meal plans, purchasing textbooks from the bookstore, etc.). Additionally, student-athletes also bring their families into our communities and help support local economies. We thought these are important points of distinction that our communities should know and understand.
Why is this an appropriate time to build a facility like this? Colby Community College has experienced some new and unique challenges over the last few years. These opportunities for improvement have provided the College with the ability to address and increase efficiencies and outcomes. The institution is back to a point of stability and sound operation. Colby Community College was just recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education as having the 24th highest graduation rate in the nation among the two-year sector (out of 762 institutions, placing us in the top 3.1% in the nation). In addition, our students have had the highest or second highest wage outcomes for the last four years among the 26 community and technical colleges in the state. Colby Community College is constantly exploring ways to improve the institution and enhance the student experience.
Does the Big Blue Barn compete with the importance of a new community events center? In my opinion, not in the slightest. The facilities are very different, but both are vitally needed. Colby Community College and the City of Colby explored the possibility of partnering to combine facilities, but for a variety of reasons, this did not come to fruition. The reasons include, but were not limited to, the following: when we began this project, the location of a new community events center was unknown. We also did not know if a new events center would be approved on the November ballot. If a new events center is approved, Colby Community College would not have full access to the facility, and there were additional costs to incorporate our needs into an events center. Even though our goals did not align on this project, I am extremely grateful for our relationships with the City and the County. I cannot stress the importance of these relationships enough.
When preparing a facility like this or the proposed events center, in my opinion, it is imperative to plan for the current needs of the college as well as the future needs of our community. As in institution, we feel this facility not only benefits Colby Community College, but the community.
How is the project going to be funded? Colby Community College is going to fund the Big Blue Barn through donations and grants. Currently, we are meeting with approximately 75 individual donors, but we anticipate this number growing to over 125. This facility will not be built with tax dollars. We felt it was imperative to fund the project in this way and be transparent to our constituents.
If you are interested in the project or have concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or on my office line at (785) 460-5400. All donations are tax-deductible and can be made to the Colby Community College Endowment Foundation.
On behalf of Colby Community College, we want to extend our sincere gratitude to the communities we serve. As always, if you have not been on campus lately, please stop. We would love to see you.
Seth Macon Carter