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Peninsula College President discusses future of Forks campus

The search is on at Peninsula College for $2 million in funding for improvements to the college’s Forks extension campus.

Peninsula College President Thomas Keegan discussed the future of the campus at the Wednesday, April 27 meeting of the Forks Chamber of Commerce.

Keegan was in Forks for the college’s annual two-day meeting that focuses on the budget of and future plans for the Forks extension.

About a dozen Peninsula College staff attended including Debbie Scannell, who oversees the Forks campus, where 160 students are enrolled and 107 students take online classes.

Approval is in the works for taking out a $2 million loan for facility improvements to the Forks extension facility, Keegan said. Gov. Chris Gregoire must approved the proposal.

Keegan said he sees needing to raise the $2 million payback himself from non-state sources. Receiving state funding is now unlikely due to the deep cuts to higher education budgets currently being made by the Legislature.

The Peninsula College president said he is also in talks with administration at the University of Washington’s Forks-based Olympic Natural Resource Center over a number of possible tie-ins between Peninsula College’s Forks campus and ONRC, he said,

The most significant would be moving Peninsula College’s Forks extension campus to the ONRC campus, though Keegan said there is yet “no decision to move anywhere.” Building a new campus building in Forks is another option.

Peninsula College’s current location is in downtown Forks in a former retail store location that has housed a grocery store and a clothing store in the past. Past discussion of building a modern campus have included a possible joint facility with the Forks Library, though that proposal wasn’t mentioned at the Chamber meeting.

Other tie-ins include housing visiting international student groups hosted by Peninsula College at ONRC for two-to-three-week study programs. Another was taking out short-term leases on specific areas at ONRC, such as its chemistry lab, for Peninsula College classes that facilities are unavailable for at the existing Forks campus.

Keegan asked Chamber members to respond to the concept of moving the campus out of downtown Forks. Some saw ONRC an excellent relocation choice, others cited transportation and public visibility problems if the move was made out of downtown Forks. Others said the move would solve the parking problem the college faces in downtown Forks, while others said the move could result in a long-term vacancy downtown.

His annual Forks planning meeting this year, Keegan said, was delayed by weeks due to the budgeting emergency at Legislature. With a final dollar figure yet to come from the Legislature, Keegan said he and his staff are budgeting for a 20 percent cutback in state funding for the college. He expects to cut 17 full time employees, though only one of the positions will be a faculty member. No cuts are expected at the Forks campus, he said.

Forks District Court Judge Eric Rohrer is chair of the Peninsula College board of directors this year.

Keegan said while state funding is dipping, college enrollment is growing. “Enrollment is off the charts,” he told the Chamber members, citing the bad economy and cutbacks in employment as a time when local residents seek to learn new skills. In addition, more high school students are opting to start their college career at Peninsula College due to boosts in tuition and fees at universities, and cutbacks in how many students universities are accepting.

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