Future of Eagle’s CMC campus debated
Depending on a person’s viewpoint, the potential closure of the Colorado Mountain College campus in Eagle is either a devastating blow to the local community or a practical decision governed by economics.
Many citizens argued the former, and CMC officials argued the latter last week during a pubic input session regarding the future of the 30-year-old facility in Eagle. The Rocky Mountain-area community college is opening a new, $5.5 million campus in Edwards in the fall. Administrators are seeking permission from the college’s board of directors to pursue the lease or sell the building in Eagle’s downtown business district.
The issue will come up before the CMC governing board at their May 3 meeting in Steamboat Springs.
About 70 citizens attended the meeting, and of those who spoke, nearly all urged the CMC administration to maintain the physical presence of the college campus in Eagle. Some spoke of the convenience of having a continuing education facility in the immediate community. Others talked about the emotional connection local residents have with the college.
Several, including town of Eagle officials and Eagle County commissioner Tom Stone, urged the college to delay a decision on the building until the needs of the growing population in the west end of the valley are better understood.
Citizens speak out
Eagle resident Agnes Harakal said the proximity of the college had made it possible for her to pursue her education through night classes. She works at a local preschool.
“I have two kids and one husband … our life is made a lot easier because it takes only five minutes to go to classes,” she said.
Gypsum resident Linda Miller, who obtained her associate degree through CMC, said she would not have completed that educational goal had she been required to drive some distance to classes. She also questioned the proposal by CMC officials to continue to offer night classes at various school buildings and public facilities in Eagle and Gypsum.
“It doesn’t have a college feel if you’re going to other communities,” she said.
Amanda Jones, a recent graduate of Eagle Valley High School who is now working on her college degree through CMC, recounted the college’s role in her life since she took ballet lessons at the campus as a 7-year-old.
“The convenience of having CMC in Eagle is huge to a student living in Eagle … it’s been a big part of the community forever,” she said. June Skelly, a senior citizen who does not drive, said she will not be able to attend classes if the local facility is closed down.
Eby Creek resident Gary Gilman spoke in favor of closing the Eagle campus, saying the new facility in Edwards could meet community needs, and would eliminate duplication of administrative services. But Terry Quinn of Eagle urged officials to make sure classes are offered locally.
“I don’t have a specific attachment to that building (in downtown Eagle). I do have an attachment to going to classes near home,” said Quinn.
Eagle Town Board member Paul Witt urged CMC decision makers to consider the “good will factor” involved in keeping the facility in Eagle. He warned that closing the Eagle facility would cause CMC to lose students, and would hurt the college’s reputation for serving the community.
“You’ve got a home. You’ve got people. Don’t lose the people to move to a new home,” Witt said.
Peggy Curry, dean of the CMC campuses in Vail and the Eagle Valley, said she understood the attachment people have to the Eagle campus. But, she said, the cost of running that facility is $350,000 annually, most of which is salaries.
“I have to face reality. It is costing too much to keep the building open with too many staff members. We would not be good stewards of your tax dollars if we allowed that,” she said.
In 2003, Eagle County residents saw $7.9 million of their tax revenues go to CMC.
Doris Dewton of Edwards, Eagle County’s representative on the CMC Board of Trustees, said the stage was set for consolidation of the Eagle Valley campuses two years ago when work on the Edwards facility started.
“CMC in Eagle doesn’t feel much like a college to me. You will be amazed at the Edwards facility,” she said “Money is the issue. (Consolidation) will save us a lot of money. It is important to use our dollars most effectively when offering education.” she said.
Still, Dewton said the college can re-evaluate the direction they have been headed in.
Eagle Mayor Jon Stavney questioned the college’s desire to consolidate campuses in the Eagle Valley. The college has four campuses in Garfield County and two in Lake County.
“Why isn’t consolidation of CMC campuses a policy in other areas which contribute fewer tax dollars and still have multiple campuses?” asked Stavney. He suggested there will be a need for a new CMC building in the Eagle or Gypsum area in the next five or 10 years.
“If CMC shares this vision, it needs to stay put,” he said.
County Commissioner Tom Stone, who was one of the promoters of the new CMC campus at Edwards, chastised college officials for lack of communication. He said a “needs survey” of the lower valley, completed in June of 2002, is just now being publicized. He said 18 of 28 people who wrote comments on the survey specifically stated they wanted the college to keep its Eagle campus.
“My concern and fear is that this decision was actually made prior to June 2002 … who made this decision?” he asked. Stone said the college had not explored all of its options with the campuses in the area.
“I don’t think this needs to be an either-or situation. The campus in Eagle was considered necessary before the downvalley population migration began,” he said.
Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell said he was concerned that the CMC administration has not been listening to the local community for the past two years.
“That campus is an important part of the fabric of Eagle, and the western part of the valley,” he said. Powell urged college officials to “buy time” by holding off on a decision about the Eagle facility.
“The western part of the county will look very different in 10 years. We shouldn’t foreclose our options now,” Powell said. “It is important for us to know you’re listening, and open to the whole question.”