LONGMONT — City leaders are floating the idea of giving Front Range Community College a permanent home near the abandoned Great Western sugar mill, which they envision as a major transportation, shopping and residential hub.
RTD is building commuter rail to Longmont and is expected to select the sugar mill as an end-of-line station.
That decision is being made largely because Mayor Julia Pirnack has forcefully argued the mill site would give the city an opportunity to remake an ugly landmark into a remarkable gateway.
Now, Pirnack is pushing to give
FRCC a permanent home somewhere near the redeveloped sugar mill site, although the college has no public plans to create a permanent campus in Longmont.
Pirnack said survey after community forum after discussion shows that the city’s residents and businesses consider education a critical component for success.
“The community has expressed ... a very strong emphasis on education at all levels,” Pirnack said. “We need to partner with the education community to do that.”
For Pirnack, that means finding a permanent home in the city for FRCC, which now leases space in an office park near the intersection of Hover Street and the Diagonal Highway. The lease is good for another five years.
The idea of a permanent FRCC home is far from a done deal. While it has been talked up by Pirnack in recent months, college officials appear lukewarm to the proposal.
FRCC President Karen Reinertson said the college is interested in discussing this — and any — proposal regarding the Boulder County campus.
She said the likelihood of the college building its own facility in the current fiscal climate is low, but the college might be interested in leasing a property from a developer on the site.
“Anybody who expresses an interest, we have an obligation to talk to them,” Reinertson said, emphasizing that any talks about moving the campus to the sugar mill area are preliminary.
Having a college provides a certain cachet to a community — think Fort Collins or Boulder — because students often come with disposable income. In Longmont’s case, however, FRCC represents an opportunity to retain an institution providing valuable job training for workers demanded by the city’s high-tech companies.
The city has already begun officially incorporating a college campus into its plans for the sugar mill project, as envisioned in an urban-renewal proposal for the entire area from the sugar mill east to the flour mill at First Avenue and Terry Street.
RTD is still studying the feasibility of putting an end-of-line station at the sugar mill. The results of that study, called an environmental assessment, are due next summer.
The study is expected to confirm that the sugar mill makes sense as an end-of-line station because of the space it offers. City leaders envision the sugar mill being redeveloped into a shopping center with homes, offices and perhaps a regional arts center — and home to Front Range Community College.
FRCC board member Leona Stoecker, a former Longmont mayor, said she believed the board would back the idea.
When Reinertson took the helm at the college a few months ago, Stoecker toured her around Longmont and pointed out the sugar mill site.
“They could see the potential for a site like that,” Stoecker said of Reinertson and other Front Range officials.
Reinertson said the decision to move the campus wouldn’t be hers alone, and that any plans would involve the state community college bureaucracy.
Despite the remaining length of the college’s lease in Longmont, she said, it isn’t too early to consider other options. If the proposal goes forward, someone would have to actually build new facilities for the college.
“I think it could be a great spot for us if it could work out,” Reinertson said, adding later, “It is very preliminary, but it seems like the kind of thing that if all the chips fall into place, we should be at the table for it.”
Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5244, or by e-mail at email@example.com.