Bond Commission approves college upgrades

Advocate staff photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, left, listens while State Treasurer John N. Kennedy addresses the Bond Commission on Thursday. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, left, listens while State Treasurer John N. Kennedy addresses the Bond Commission on Thursday.

The State Bond Commission gave permission Thursday to make the loans necessary for a $175 million expansion at 18 community college campuses around the state. The money would build new campuses in the New Orleans area to train students for river-related shipping business and for work as chefs.

In Lafayette, a building would be constructed for educating technical workers in healthcare.

And Baton Rouge Community College will be building facilities for computer training and for process technology programs.

Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Monty Sullivan said the students coming out of many of these training programs with associate degrees will be able to find jobs with starting salaries at more than $55,000 a year.

The Bond Commission gave approval for $153.7 million in bonds, to which industry and other contributors will add $21 million in cash and equipment, according to submitted reports.

“We hope to start selling the bonds in the fall, and we can get started on the projects by early next year,” Sullivan said. The campuses should be able to start accepting students in 18 months or so.

Among the projects to be funded is $11.6 million to build a center to expand offerings in computers and math at the BRCC Smiley Heights Campus, which already has an automotive repair training facility.

On the main campus of BRCC, $9.2 million will go for adding process technology programs that would train workers to operate the new manufacturing plants.

Delgado Community College in New Orleans has three projects, costing $37.4 million. Two are aimed at the maritime industry and include the construction of a new campus near the Churchill Business Park in Jefferson Parish, which will focus on classes on transportation logistics and other maritime training.

Then a campus near the Avondale Shipyards will offer advanced manufacturing training.

A third new campus at Howard Avenue and Carondelet Street in New Orleans will train chefs at a culinary institute.

South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette is receiving $17 million for new facilities that would provide training in healthcare-related technology for hospital personnel.

The River Parishes Community College will get $9.2 million to build a center that would allow the teaching of process technology and industrial maintenance. It would be located on the campus currently being built in Sorrento.

State Treasurer John Kennedy said the transactions are being treated as if they don’t add to the state’s debt. But that’s not really accurate, he said, because the officials in New York whose ratings of Louisiana’s credit risk set the interest rates that taxpayers ultimately pay for the bonds are using these transactions in their calculations.

“I would ask you to please don’t do it again,” Kennedy said, even as he approved the lending.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, a Jonesboro Republican, said he too was concerned about the debt. But the only way to raise revenues is to put more people to work, he said.

“Even at a very difficult budget time, it’s vital to make strategic investments,” Sullivan said.