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State legislators, including Representative Jerry Sonnenberg, right, took a tour of the Morgan...
State legislators, including Representative Jerry Sonnenberg, right, took a tour of the Morgan Community College campus Thursday. They were members of the Capital Development Committee, which decides where to spend money on state infrastructure, and were interested in the new addition to the college. Part of that addition is the current construction of a multi-purpose room and storage the legislators are passing in this photo.
Members of the Colorado legislature's Capital Development Committee toured the new addition at Morgan Community College Thursday to see what state revenue helped pay for.
This was part of a larger tour to see a number of capital developments, including projects at Northeastern Junior College, the North Sterling Reservoir, the Sterling Correctional Facility, the Limon Correctional Facility and ports of entry, said Jerry Sonnenberg, chairman of the committee.
His committee is charged with making sure capital projects are prioritized and state infrastructure is maintained, he said.
Touring projects is important in order to see the effects of the decisions the committee makes, and in this case to be aware of the needs of rural communities, Sonnenberg said.
Committee members will be visiting other parts of the state later in the year, and they try to make it to every part of the state every three or four years, he said.
Since Northeast Colorado is his favorite area -- as the representative for the Sterling area -- he wanted the committee to see that was happening out here, Sonnenberg said.
Sonnenberg said it was worth spending the money on the health sciences addition to MCC, especially since rural Colorado has a hard time getting and keeping nurses. MCC has a nursing training program.
It was particularly nice to see high-tech equipment usually seen in the big hospitals in large cities, he said.
MCC staff members carefully planned the addition so student nurses could use the same kind of space and equipment they would encounter on the job, said Betty McKie, vice president of instruction. That way they can learn to use equipment properly and avoid problems.
Committee Vice Chairman Bob Bacon, a state senator from Fort Collins, said he was impressed by how the community raised funding to add to state mineral revenues to pay for the addition.
That shows community involvement and support, he emphasized.
That is the kind of community involvement often seen in rural Colorado, Sonnenberg noted.
Bacon said it is worrisome that he state is not active enough in providing training for the next generation of jobs, since such programs make up the "intellectual capital" of the state.
Prior legislatures invested in education and he does not want to leave less of a legacy than seen in the past, he said. Sometimes getting the support to do that means creative financing like that which paid for the MCC addition.
Colorado needs to find the funding to pay for education and educational facilities, and it might be useful to have a community college system more like the K-12 system in terms of funding, Sonnenberg said.
Currently, the large community colleges on the Front Range get most of the money and it is hard to access any of it for rural Colorado, he said.
That is important because many rural kids either study at NJC or MCC or do not go to college -- and these smaller colleges have to work to educate people over a huge area of the state, Sonnenberg pointed out.
While there is some revenue sharing between community colleges, it is not as much as with K-12, he said.
Unfortunately, the pie of funding for community colleges and even four-year colleges is small, Bacon said.
MCC was fortunate in a way to have built during the recession, when costs were lower, McKie said. It was able to get more for its limited budget, and even build in room for expansion.
In fact, MCC is building an expansion to the addition right now to create a multi-purpose room and a place to put an ambulance when needed for training.
One legislator was interested about whether MCC has high school students who make use of the college facilities.
MCC President Kerry Hart said about 30 percent of the students are in concurrent enrollment in both high school and MCC. Those are made up of both high school juniors and senior.
By taking advantage of that program, parents can save money on college costs, McKie explained.
MCC has strong partnerships with 27 high schools in the region, she said.
Often the high school students have already met high school requirements and want to further their studies, McKie said.
"They're regular college students," she said.
Those in the Ascent Program can extend their high school experience to five years while taking MCC classes and end up with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree, which means they are already two years into a four-year college program, McKie said.
However, MCC never compromises on its quality of instruction, and sometimes has top students such as those who go on to study at Stanford University, the Colorado School of Mines and other top institutions, Hart said.
Other committee members on the tour included Representative Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, Representative J. Paul Brown of Durango and Representative Edward Vigil, who comes from south of Alamosa. Commissioners Dave Edwards and Patricia Pacey of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education also took the tour.
-- Contact Dan Barker at

J. Paul Brown
Colorado State Representative
House District 59
State Capitol
200 E. Colfax, Room 271
Denver, Colorado 80203