Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Pikes Peak Community College betting on strong downtown as it seeks money to expand

By Debbie Kelley Updated: December 18, 2013 at 5:24 am

Monday's coup in getting the state's financial rubber stamp on Colorado Springs' City for Champions proposal also has the potential to yield big dividends for Pikes Peak Community College.

"The timing could be really good," President Lance Bolton said Tuesday. "We're betting on a strong and growing downtown, and there's a good synergy here, as we work alongside these other developing projects."

On the same day City for Champions supporters pitched an appeal to the Colorado Economic Development Commission for help funding four tourism projects, Bolton also was in Denver, trying to convince the Legislature's Capital Development Committee why state tax money should pay for an expansion to PPCC's downtown campus.

"I hope our outcome is as good," he said.

PPCC is requesting $3.9 million to build a nearly $5 million Black Box Theater and student commons area for tutoring and studying at PPCC's Downtown Studio Campus. PPCC would contribute the difference from its reserves.

Funding for state capital construction started decreasing in 2009, settling at one-fourth the level of what it had been before the recession. It's now beginning to rebound.

But many higher education and government projects are competing for dollars. PPCC ranked 20th on a capital construction priority listing released in October, which Bolton said means it's barely making the cut for consideration.

"Everyone's jockeying for positioning," he said.

Adding nearly 10,000 square feet to the existing 34,211 square feet of the downtown campus, north of Antlers Park in the former St. Mary's High School building, is needed to accommodate growth, Bolton said.

The downtown location, one of four campuses in the college's 22,000-student system, has 5,000 students, a 30 percent increase since 2007. The campus specializes in visual and performing arts courses, along with dance and music instruction. General education and night and weekend classes also are offered.

A 4,800-square-foot Black Box Theater would be available for community use as well as student performances and instruction, he said. The flexible space would be built where a breezeway connects the north and south buildings that make up the downtown campus. Another 3,400 square feet would be the commons area. The college estimates it has a shortage of more than 23,000 square feet of study and student life space for that site.

"Folks that study our building usage say our most heavily scheduled spaces are here," Bolton said.

PPCC also is requesting $6.8 million in state money to remodel portions of the main Centennial Campus, in southern Colorado Springs.

Lawmakers should finalize capital construction spending by the end of this legislative season next spring. If the project gets approved, Bolton said construction could start in the summer.

Without state backing, "We'd look for other ways to get this done," he said, including relying on the PPCC Foundation to do fundraising.

The expansion would be the first step in making PPCC's downtown campus larger. A second phase would add a new building. The college earlier this year purchased the former Gowdy Printcraft Press shop to the west for $727,000. The plan is to raze the existing 10,000-square-foot building and build a new four- to five-story classroom building. Bolton said that project would cost $10 million to $15 million and also would require money from the state.

Many of the students who take classes at the downtown campus live and work in the area, Bolton said, and would benefit from the additional jobs and other opportunities that the City for Champions projects would bring.

More students at the downtown campus also likely would come PPCC's way with the expected flurry of downtown development.

"We're excited," Bolton said. "If we invest in these expansions and downtown becomes weaker and less attractive, that's going to end up being a bad investment for us. But we think downtown is continuing to be a strong and growing place."

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