An appeal for health building at city college

CONCORD – Three years ago, Stacey Charron, of Hudson, was crushed at learning she had failed to get into Keene State College.

Later this month, she graduates from Nashua Community College with a fall spot waiting for her as a communications major at Cornell University.

Charron said finding the money for a $6.8 million allied health building at NCC would get students out of portable classrooms and put the Nashua campus on the cutting edge of preparing for tomorrow’s jobs in the green economy.

“There are so many opportunities for students to get involved in Nashua. Getting this new building would really open so many more doors,” Charron said during an interview after administrators, faculty and students showed up in support of the pitch before the Senate Capital Budget Committee on Monday.

Nashua is the only one of the seven, two-year college campuses in the state with portables. Each year, 75 percent of students attend at least one class there.

NCC President Lucille Jordan listed five energy and environmental study degrees she would create but can’t with only one biology lab.

“We find ourselves forfeiting despite the fact we have the students and we have the staff with the knowledge,” Jordan testified.

Nashua is also the only campus without a chemistry lab; the new 30,000-square-foot building would add two biology and two chemistry labs.

It would also house a 6,000-square-foot space for nursing. Students now use laboratory space downtown at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua.

Jordan said the hospital needs lab space for its clinic expansion by fall 2010.

NCC has room for only 24 students, Jordan said. Last year, 147 applied for a spot.

But Gov. John Lynch and the House of Representatives recommended two-year capital budgets for public works (HB 25) that did not include the Nashua project.

The existing capital budget had $500,000 for design and engineering of the NCC building.

“This project clearly is shovel-ready,” Jordan said.

Lynch’s proposed budget plan only set aside $2 million in maintenance for the entire community college system.

The House plan bumped maintenance up to $3 million along with a $1.5 million building renovation for a satellite campus in Keene and a $3.5 million overhaul for the radiology program at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.

System Chancellor Richard Gustafson said Nashua’s project remains one of the top five priorities along with the three projects the House endorsed plus $1.6 million to upgrade information technology networks.

Rep. Candace Bouchard, D-Concord, chairs the House Public Works and Highways Committee.

“It sounds like a worthwhile project, but the reality is to add that kind of money on top of the House version, something has to come out,” Bouchard said.

NCC originally requested $11 million for a 50,000-square-foot building but Jordan modified it Monday.

The smaller, $6.8 million complex would not have an auditorium or lecture hall and be a stand-alone structure rather than connecting to the existing building.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said NCC should explore making use of existing labs in the city’s two high schools.

“These capital expenditures just can’t keep coming,” said D’Allesandro, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee that is preparing its own, two-year state budget plan.

“We have to maximize utilization of facilities.”

Jordan said 12 percent of students take the bus to get to NCC.

“It’s challenging for our students to get to Nashua High North or to Nashua High South and then come back to our campus,” Jordan said.

“Every night, our own lab is open to 11 p.m., and we have lab classes all day Saturday.”

Casey Dean, of Nashua, is a first-semester psychology student.

“The portable classes are too hot or too cold. There’s no bathroom nearby, and the teachers don’t have basic equipment like projectors,” said Dean, who is taking an English course in one of the rooms this spring.

“Look at what Stacey was able to accomplish going from our campus to Cornell. If we got rid of the portables and had another building, just think of the possibilities.”