Keeping Butler will take real investment

Butler Community College is worried it won’t be able to keep its Marion campus in the Bown-Corby school building because it costs too much, despite rent being only $25 annually. Butler of the Flint Hills director Amy Kjellin revealed last week that the college is considering moving out of the building that has been its Marion home since 1991.

City Administrator Roger Holter said college officials told him that the cost of high-speed Internet for the building was excessive. The college connects to classrooms at other campuses for several distance-learning classes. The building also is expensive to maintain, Kjellin told me. Surprisingly, Kjellin said nothing about utility bills, and Holter confirmed that Butler officials told him utilities at Bown-Corby are reasonable, despite the building’s age.

Finding a way to keep Butler in Bown-Corby should be a priority for the city. The building is in good shape right now, but if Butler leaves and the city can’t find another tenant, history shows us that it won’t stay that way for long. With the city’s sights set on economic development, letting a landmark building fall into disrepair by sitting empty would be disastrous.

The revelation that Butler might move also raises the question, where might it move to? The college won’t be able to find cheaper high-speed Internet unless it piggybacks on someone else’s connection, making the most likely choice Marion High School. That would leave Butler without a dedicated office in town, though. Where would current and prospective students go for enrollment information or transcripts? And what would happen to the office jobs at the college? Would Kjellin and others be moved to the Council Grove campus full-time?

Thankfully, no decision has been made yet and Butler and the city are discussing solutions. With rent already just a token payment, one option is effectively useless. But could a single janitorial service for the city, college, and possibly other public entities and even private businesses save Butler and others on maintenance costs? It seems likely, if multiple entities were ready to seriously cooperate.

That wouldn’t solve Butler’s sky-high Internet bill. What could do that — and what could be a huge boon to the city’s economic development efforts if marketed correctly — would be a telecommunications infrastructure program spearheaded by the city. Imagine a fiber optic network running between Bown-Corby, the city building, the courthouse, and the schools, with fiber available to downtown businesses and wireless Internet throughout.

That is the sort of development Marion could really market to businesses and individuals. The organizations could recover their costs based on what they’re already spending for numerous separate Internet connections, and it would promote high-tech development in Marion in a way that nothing else could.

— ADAM STEWART

 

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