Will Ravenstein

Wellington Daily News

Cowley College president Dr. Dennis C. Rittle was on hand Thursday May, 11 for the City of Wellington city council work session.

Rittle presented the concept for how the Cowley College Sumner County Campus would look once construction started later this year.

The topic on hand for the council was whether a road that loops around campus, when complete, would be considered public or private.

“This would eventually end up into a developers agreement which we would work up with Cowley College,” City Manager Shane Shields said. “The one issue there is the streets. So, we need to agree on some consensus there of what your intent is. Obviously the streets there would be public or private. Private, there is a method to assess the construction cost to the college. If they are public, then they are public streets and long term maintenance comes into play. If they are public it can be considered a main traffic way. Legal opinion is that it would qualify as a main traffic way, therefore it would be assessed 100-percent to the city at large.”

Kevin Cowen, bond council for the City, was on hand and able to define what a main traffic way is.

“A main traffic way, by statute, is any street or road that carries heavier traffic in the areas of concentrated activity,” he said. “When you designate a main traffic way, it is a legislative finding by the governing body. That means, it is assailable, it can’t be challenged unless you act arbitrarily. No reason at all. If you have any reason, in your finding that it’s a main traffic way, state statute says that’s it is a main traffic way. It can’t be challenged by anybody essentially.”

Rittle emphasized that when looking at the main campus in Arkansas City, the roads there are all all city streets and maintained by them.

“The city takes care of them, the city provides for them,” he said. “Why? Cause we have a tremendous amount of activity on the campus.”

Rittle continued into details of the campus and the opportunities that would arise with having the facilities in Wellington.

“One of the things that will be unique to this campus, is that the Short Center will have a very large community center with activities going on all the time,” Rittle said. “If you go over to main campus we average over 500 community events annually. That’s more than one every day. You will see a lot of activity here. There will be opportunities for community enrichment, not just college classes. The notion here is to meet with our previous model. Our cities do provide for the roads, then what we do is take care of the parking and sidewalks.”

Rittle also emphasized the colleges notion of connecting the community together with the college. In the conceptual drawing (page A4) there is a small lake that could be built. It is the hopes that with the roads going through the college community members might chose to utilize the lake for a lunch or walking area.

Rittle stated several times that Arkansas City maintains the roads at the main campus. Upon looking at an aerial photo of Arkansas City the college is built upon the preexisting road plan. If you look at Butler Community College in El Dorado, the campus sits off an intersection of two main roads. A conversation with the Assistant Director of Facilities Management revealed that while the city of El Dorado maintains the two roads, BCCC maintains the roads that link parking lots and buildings and links the campus to the city streets.

Council member Kelly Hawley stated her displeasure with the concept of the city paying for the roads.

“I really would have liked this discussion before we took this to vote,” she said referring to the November election. “I think this is something a lot of tax payers out there didn’t know. You’re selling us on a college and a tax increase. Then guess what, we have roads that have to be put in.”

Rittle informed the council members that building roads would take away the potential of the planned buildings, while reminding the them that Cowley has placed a lot ahead of the first sales tax revenue being received.

“The college has put forth a whole lot of energy and a whole lot of resources before we even had a penny come in,” he said. “We haven’t even received any money and we won’t see anything until the end of this month. We’ve been very up front and we are stretching ourselves as far as we can. We have no problem with that, we are a community college. With that concept, we didn’t know if we would be working in a piece of property this size. Or, a piece much smaller.”

He also stated that thanks to the donation of the property by the Short family the college has the property and a responsibility to develop it.

“We owe it to the family, the community and everybody that has contributed,” Rittle said. “That was a wonderful opportunity. But it also creates a problem. When we looked at it, the concept, roads were just a part of it. Roads are a part of DNA.”

Mayor Shelley Hansel voiced her opinion for support of the college.

“I think Dr. Rittle has clearly explained that this isn’t just another business,” she said. “This is a partnership. An opportunity to grow our community with the partnership with Cowley College. This is not anything anyone in Wellington or Sumner County has had the opportunity to deal with. We should be excited and thankful for this development.”

Shields reminded the council members that the purpose was to get a consensus as to the direction, but also reminded them of Arkansas City campus layout.

“I want to make sure that you are presented with all the facts,” he said. “That’s the only reason I am mentioning this, not that I am opposed or anything like that, but comparing this to Ark City is a little bit different. Ark City was created on city streets. It was developed. So, there is a little bit of difference there. This is a campus being proposed.”

The members discussed in more detail about the concept plan while searching for hard numbers of cost involved.

Cowley representatives were unwilling to give a projected cost at this time. They wished to wait until final plans were decided and actual numbers could be projected.

The Wellington City Council decided to proceed with a 50-percent cost share with the college and public road designation as a starting point in future negotiations.