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Franklin County voters approve bond issue for Columbus State Community College upgrades

Columbus State Community College asked Franklin County voters to approve a bond issue that will raise $300 million for capital improvements to its campus. And voters said yes. Now, college leaders say the pandemic might shift their priorities for what projects will be completed first.

Now that Franklin County voters have approved a bond issue that will raise $300 million for capital improvements to help Columbus State Community College overhaul its aging campus and position itself for the future, college leaders say that renovations and repairs will begin almost immediately.

But because the 24-year, 0.65-mill bond issue was placed on the ballot before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Ohio, strangled the economy and left the state hemorrhaging jobs, the priorities for what work happens first have shifted, Columbus State President David Harrison said Wednesday.

“We are focused on investing in infrastructure that is going to fuel the workforce and, frankly, restart the economy,” Harrison said.

That means expanding laboratories and class space that focus on health care, technology and public safety as quickly as possible.

“This crisis really gives us an opportunity to evaluate priorities with a different sense of urgency and to work with employers to determine which jobs will be growing and what skills will be needed,” Harrison said.

The vote totals for the measure — 92,665 to 62,820, a win of about 60% of the vote — are unofficial until the Franklin County Board of Elections meets to certify them on May 19.

The totals do not include absentee ballots postmarked by Monday but not yet received at the board of elections (they must arrive by May 8) or the 1,224 provisional ballots cast by voters in person Tuesday. Those wouldn’t be enough to change the outcome, however.

The measure will cost homeowners about $23 per year per $100,000 of home valuation.

Columbus State was the first to take advantage of a new state provision that allows community colleges to ask voters for money to make permanent improvements on campus.

The money raised will go to projects that include:

‒ $37.7 million for expanded student-support spaces.

‒ $36.5 million for long-neglected maintenance and needed upgrades to some of the oldest buildings on the Downtown campus, plus $31.6 million to replace deteriorating buildings.

‒ $36.6 million for upgrades to classrooms and lab spaces for the in-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum.

Harrison had issued a written statement earlier Wednesday thanking voters, campaign volunteers and contributors, and the community.

The Citizens for Columbus State campaign was well-funded, spending at least $2 million to spread its message and gain support. Some of the early major campaign donors included Nationwide, AEP, Cardinal Health and L Brands.

Campaign spokeswoman Jen Detwiler said in an email Tuesday that the committee secured “early endorsements from a broad base of community leaders.” Those came from heavy hitters such as the Columbus YWCA, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Columbus Urban League, NAACP Columbus, the Columbus Partnership and various elected officials.

It was not, however, an issue without opposition.

Joe Motil of Taxpayers Advocating Fair Taxation said the group objects to Franklin County taxpayers footing the bill for a college that draws students from across Ohio. His organization had hoped to mount an aggressive anti-tax campaign, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented some of the fundraising and outreach it had hoped to do.

Columbus State has about 28,000 students across the Downtown campus, a campus in Delaware and regional learning centers. The bond issue money, however, will be used only for the Downtown campus.

Harrison said new buildings take years to complete, so renovations of science labs and maintenance are the first changes that people will see on the campus, where the buildings average about 40 years old.

In the information technology world, the college will soon increase space for programs that focus on cybersecurity, data analytics and cloud technology and for new skills that might be emerging as necessary in this pandemic, Harrison said.

“We are 100% mindful of where we are as a community and ... have a sense of responsibility, a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency of making sure that we are taking these resources given to us and helping get the community back on the positive trajectory,” he said.

See the story on The Columbus Dispatch here >>

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