As Cowley College trustees prepare to finalize a contract to buy the Carnegie Library in Arkansas City, opposition to the deal is mounting.
The Cowley College Foundation, and more than 70 college employees who signed a petition, are protesting the move.
The board is scheduled to consider the contract during its Monday meeting.
Board Chair Harold “Doc” Arnett, who voted against the purchase last month, called the employee opposition significant, especially since the faculty is not on duty at this point.
He said those circulating the petition did so without knowing the details of the contract because the board approved buying the building last month, but details were not released until Friday.
“I’m curious to see when the details come out, if that will increase the number of those opposed or decrease that number,” he said.
Board Trustee Gary Wilson, who has been a strong supporter of the purchase, said he was not aware of the petition.
“I’ll have to look at it,” he said.
Roger and Diane Sparks, current owners of the building, are offering the historical building to the college for $250,000 in a no-interest loan. The Sparks offered $300,000 in December, but the college demurred due to that price and the estimated costs of renovating the facility.
The county’s appraised value for the 1907 building and land is $21,530.
The terms of the contract state that the loan payments will be made in monthly, no-interest installments with amounts that will increase throughout the term of the loan.
A payment of $1,000 will be due for the first 24 months and will increase to $1,500 for the next 12 months. Following those 36 months, the payment will increase to $2,000 for the next 20 months, and will then increase to $3,000 per month until paid in full.
The contract also stipulates that five of the Sparks’ grandchildren will be allowed to attend the college to pursue either an associate of arts degree or a vocational technical certification at no cost.
The college would also provide all of the books and other required items for those classes at no cost.
In his letter to the trustee board, Cowley College Foundation President Mike Munson urged the college to reconsider its decision. While he did agree that the building has potential and would make a great centerpiece for the college, he did not agree that the investment was a wise move at this time.
Munson noted that enrollment has been declining for the past several years and state funding has also decreased.
“Taking on any unnecessary expenses at this time would be irresponsible in light of the current fiscal environment,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic adds uncertainty in making such a big investment, he added.
Munson said the board took action without consulting the foundation about its role in soliciting the funds for the building restoration, estimated at $750,000.
No potential donors had contacted the foundation or indicated a desire to make contributions for the purchase and renovation of the library, he added.
“Perhaps those donors exist,” he said. “But if so, they have not directly contacted the foundation.”
Raising money for the building could jeopardize the foundation’s ability to raise scholarship funds, he added, and would likely push back the scholarship campaign for several years.
“We are very concerned that the board of trustees has committed to a project without our knowledge and without the approval of the board of the Cowley College Foundation,” he said.
Public Relations Director Rama Peroo, who signed the petition, said he was anticipating a lot of conversation about the purchase at the Monday board meeting.
He said he was not at liberty to address College President Dr. Dennis Rittle’s position toward the purchase.
“If given the opportunity, Rittle will speak to the matter at that time,” he said.
Attempts to reach other college staff and trustee board members for comment Friday were unsuccessful.