Major boost for MCC campus in Independence

By Karl Zinke

The MCC-Blue River campus in Independence will get a big addition coming soon.

The Metropolitan Community College Board of Trustees has approved an $11 million bond to build a new East Campus that will house several vocational degree programs that will be transferred from the current MCC-Business and Technology campus.

The new facility will be on Missouri 78 just east of Blue River's main campus, which is at Missouri 78 and South Jackson Drive in eastern Independence.

"We're really excited about it. We think it's going to be a great addition to Independence and Independence and its economic development," Blue River President Thomas Meyer said.

Meyer said he expects a groundbreaking ceremony in December, pending final approval of the project by the Board of Trustees, and he hopes to have construction finished by January 2022.

The new Blue River East Campus will be home to four degree programs that will be transferred from the Business and Technology campus off Front Street in the East Bottoms, which is scheduled to close. The programs coming to the new Independence facility will include:

• Lineman technician, which will teach students to learn how to set up and repair electrical wire communication and power lines. It will include an associate degree and certification.

• CDL (certified driver's license), which will teach how to become a licensed truck driver.

• Forklift, teaching how to operate a forklift.

The new building will also house MCC's Great Plains OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Education Center. Meyer said MCC has the only OSHA training center in the Midwest, which offers technical courses on hazards, occupational safety and environmental compliance for several industries, including construction, health care, manufacturing and hospitality.

"We have the perfect parcel of land" to house the lineman and CDL programs," Meyer said, "so it made a lot of sense then to then also bring OSHA and the forklift with those programs. It was just the perfect combination to bring together."

MCC announced in the summer of 2018 it would close the Business and Technology campus and spread the programs to the four other campuses. MCC broke ground earlier this month on a new $7.2 million Engineering Technology building on the MCC-Penn Valley campus in Kansas City.

Meyer said a best-case scenario would have construction on the new Blue River East Campus finished by the start of the school year in the fall of 2021, but that could be affected by COVID-19 concerns, weather or personnel. The new facility, which will be adjacent to Blue River's Precision Driving Training Course near the Regional Animal Shelter, will be approximately 25,000 square feet.

Meyer said staff and faculty for the new facility will consist of five full-time employees and 25 part-time employees. He estimates it will involve 200 extra students per month.

Meyer said that enrollment is currently lagging about 20 percent because of the pandemic, "which is in keeping with the national trend we're seeing at community colleges at this time."

MCC-Blue River, following federal and county guidelines, is currently offering most of its classes virtually except for courses in which hands-on learning is needed, such as the police and fire programs of the Public Safety Institute.

"It has been extremely challenging, but ... the students and faculty have been amazing and amazingly resilient in terms of adapting, accepting the situation and have been kind of rolling with the punches."