A vision that began in 1992 as a Pathway to the Future for Labette Community College is nearing its culmination with the LCC Foundation announcing Thursday night that the fundraising goal of $5,729,900 to renovate and expand its athletic complex has been reached.
“It has been an amazing week,” LCC Foundation Director Lindi Forbes said Thursday morning. “The outpouring of support and generosity has been phenomenal. … Last week we needed $40,000, and following the article in the paper (Parsons Sun) we had people walking in. And we’ve had it again today — walk-in, gifts online, phone calls with people wanting to find out how to give or make a pledge. We have surpassed our goal, and it is amazing. That is very much needed because it was about five years ago that we did the estimation to build the budget for this campaign, and since then, there has been inflation in construction costs and everything else. The extra money that we have gotten in from this campaign will help us meet those additional costs so we don’t have to make some tough decisions on scaling back the project.”
Achieving its goal qualifies the foundation for the $500,000 Mabee Foundation grant.
In 1992, LCC’s then President Ron Fundis encouraged then facilities director Jim Fish to design a campus that would build community pride, help with economic development, eliminate department overcrowding and provide curb appeal, in part by eliminating the college being landlocked.
Fish titled the conceptual layout “Pathway to the Future.” Working toward his vision during the next decade, LCC began to make a series of aesthetic improvements on campus and acquired property on Broadway Avenue and along Main Street between South 13th and Heacock streets with the plan of expanding the campus. The vision continued under the administration of former LCC President George Knox, who acquired more property for the college to give the campus Main Street frontage. The Sonny and Sophia Zetmeir Health Science Building was completed July 13, 2013.
In February 2016 the college closed on its purchase of the former Bank of Parsons building at 1230 Main and converted it to the college library. The former library now houses the technology department.
Through an anonymous donation of $190,000, the board purchased the former Factory Connection building in 2017, the only remaining property the college had yet to acquire along the two-block Main Street area. The building was remodeled in 2019 and is now home to the Cardinal Event Center and the foundation office.
Now, comes the final building, the athletic complex.
“So many people helped. One story that touches my heart is one lady who came in, she is an LCC graduate and her husband works at Ducommun, and Ducommun has faced some hard times recently and they have cut back his hours, so he is not even working full time,” Forbes said. “Their family saw how important this was. They saw it in the paper, and so they gave $50. That gift is just as vital and important. … We are so appreciative of the $1,000, $10,000 and $100,000 gifts, but its even those $50 gifts and $100 gifts that helped us cross this finish line.”
Looking back to about a year ago to see where the college stood on its fundraising at that time, Forbes said by February 2020, just before the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, the college had raised $4.9 million.
“Today we are at over 5.8 million,” she said. “During this global pandemic people stepped up. It shows how important this project is and how important the college is, that people want to help students and change their lives. It’s phenomenal.”
The foundation wasted no time as they neared their final goal last week.
“We were pretty confident we were going to make it, so we let out the bids, and the bids will be coming back and be reviewed at the end of January to pick all the subcontractors. So, we are looking at having the groundbreaking in March,” Forbes said.
Any changes to renderings will be dependent on changes in cost of the materials upon the incoming bids.
“I know that (the board’s ) overwhelming feeling is to serve students best, so instead of compromising direct things inside the building for learning or exercise and wellness classes and those majors, there would be changes about the exterior finishes and some things that don’t affect the students personally.”
Forbes said the college is hopeful the project will be good for helping subcontractors and contractors during the pandemic.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have this support during the pandemic and make a move forward on this planned project, and I think that probably lots of other things that have been planned have been shelved, so for some of those people, there might not be as many jobs,” Forbes said. “So this is another boost to the economy.”
It is believed it will be another boost for the college, too.
Evidence by other institutions shows when improvements are made like this they attract and retain more students, and it’s not just the student-athletes.
“The student-athletes are an interesting section of our population because they bring along friends and family to go to college here. Over the years I’ve worked at Labette Community College, I’ve seen time and time again that someone who comes here because they’ve been recruited, brings their cousin, or their girlfriend, or their brother or their best friend. They may not be on the team at all, but they’re going to come to college here with that person,” Forbes said. “They amplify our number of students.”
The excitement is escalating among people at the college as the long-time dream comes to fruition. A campus itself can be an effective recruiting tool, but campus aesthetics are often correlated with academic reputation, and LCC has a strong one, from the academic accomplishments of its student athletes to its health careers students who boast 80% to 100% test rates annually for licensing.
“This is part of having the strategic plan in place, and really this is the culmination of it. We needed student housing, and that has been addressed. We needed the building for the health science program because that is a huge draw for us. Now we’re going to improve and more than double the size of our athletic buildings,” Forbes said. “It’s going to do nothing but help us with recruitment and retention of our students and employees. When people come to our town to check it out, they drive by this end of our community, and it’s going to look even better. And, some day when we get back to being able to have fans, it’s going to be so much better for the fan experience too. We hope to bolster a whole lot more community pride and gain more support that way too because it is going to be such a nice facility that people are going to be drawn to and they’re going to build a connection.”