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September 20, 2014

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

Boulder City braces for loss of CSN learning center

But recent budgetary developments make its survival a possibility

Image

Sam Morris

Mary Forsyth, left, and Diane Hernandez look at student offerings during an art show this week at the Boulder City CSN campus, which is slated to close in June. In addition to offering classes, the single-building center hosts community events.

Click to enlarge photo

Students and guests browse during Wednesday's art show. Although CSN pays rent of only $1 a year on the center, it says costs such as utilities and personnel make that less of a bargain than it seems.

Visitors mingled in the sunlit lobby of the College of Southern Nevada’s Boulder City campus this week, admiring student drawings and paintings. Guests drank Martinelli’s sparking juice out of plastic champagne cups and indulged in homemade cookies and fruit salad.

It might have been the last such event the college will hold in the facility, which has been a popular gathering spot over the years. Descendants of the 31ers, the workers who built Hoover Dam, reserve the space for their annual luncheon, where they pore over scrapbooks and swap stories. When no festivities are scheduled, students congregate in the lobby to study and talk between classes. It is a place where people, young and old, learn about themselves, about each other.

And that’s why the campus’ potential closure saddens many residents.

More than a place that hosts classes, CSN’s Boulder City center has played, for more than a decade, a small but significant role in the community.

The campus’s fate has been in limbo since last summer, when CSN President Michael Richards announced that it was one of six learning centers the college planned to shut down this June, in the face of potentially massive budget cuts. But the situation is shifting, maybe even improving.

Under a budget plan a joint legislative subcommittee finalized this week, CSN would take a 4.9 percent cut, the second smallest reduction among the state’s seven public colleges.

CSN spokeswoman K.C. Brekken said Thursday that a Lincoln County satellite that administrators were preparing to close would remain open for at least one year. They also hope to save a center targeted for closure in the Moapa Valley.

But the fate remains uncertain for the other sites, including the one in Boulder City and three in Las Vegas. Brekken said administrators are exploring ways to keep as many of the facilities open as possible as they finalize the budget.

Reaction to the looming closure isn’t surprising.

“It’s a shame,” Mary Forsyth, 71, said. “I live in Boulder City. I don’t like driving. If I can do it here, I like doing it here. I don’t like Las Vegas.”

Jacob Harvey, 20, said he has taken classes at CSN’s Henderson campus, but finds the Boulder City center more “homey.”

CSN established the site in 1995, leasing a 20,000-square-foot building on Wyoming Street for $1 a year, courtesy of a family foundation tied to former City Councilman Bill Smith.

The center has drawn about 400 students a semester in recent years, said site manager Andrea Anderson, a Boulder City councilwoman. Besides offering such traditional courses as math, English and computer literacy, the center trains aspiring pilots and nursing assistants.

Many students are senior citizens who do not want to drive out of town. But at stake is something more than convenience.

“We’re losing something important to Boulder City,” Anderson said. “Boulder City likes education. They value it. They want something that’s their own.”

At the art show, some attendees said administrators in Las Vegas could not understand how much the center means to the community. And several questioned the economic benefit of closing the center, given the nominal rent and high enrollment.

The reality, however, is that the cost of occupying the building runs far above the annual $1. In March, the college estimated the Boulder City site’s operating costs at more than $160,000 a year, including spending on utilities and salaries for personnel dedicated to the center. Over the years, CSN has invested money in facility maintenance, covering such expenses as repairing a leaking roof.

And many of the center’s students live in Henderson and Las Vegas.

But on Wednesday, furniture in the aviation program director’s upstairs office had been tagged with numbered pieces of blue tape to help movers keep track of the items. Mannequins used by students training to be nursing assistants have been removed.

Anderson, who has run the center since 1996, said she is going to retire. Given the college’s budget cuts, she is not bitter about the potential closure.

Nevertheless, she said, “It’s going to be sad to see all this stuff go, because I worked so hard to get it all here.”

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