Flint, MI—The Mott Community College (MCC) Board of Trustees brought architectural firm Integrated Design Solutions (IDS), which is managing the renovation of the Prahl College Center, to present at a May 22, 2023, board meeting in response to questions raised by the Board. But certain board members have raised additional concerns about the project.
Improvements to the Prahl College Center, which was built in 1971, are part of MCC’s master plan adopted by the Board in 2021. In April 2023, the Board, which has two new members following the November 2022 election, voted to continue with the construction project in a meeting despite wanting more information about the project.
At the May 22 meeting, Michael Nowicki, the IDS principal in charge of the project, assured the Board that the firm has done thorough investigations of the building’s existing conditions.
“We have not seen anything that would give us the impression that there’s anything extensive or anything that’s going to require a lot of remediation based on what we’ve investigated so far,” Nowicki said during the meeting. “However, we pretty much know we’re going to find something and when those things are uncovered by the contractors, your design professionals, the IDS, will be there to work with the contractors to solve any issues that may come up.”
During the April meeting, Board Treasurer Jeffrey Swanson, who is one of the new trustees, and Board Chair Andy Everman said the project is “a win-win” situation for MCC. But Swanson also noted that “if there’s structural issues that we find, it can roll right out of control and cost the college quite a bit of money, and I’m just trying to do due diligence here.”
Since then, Swanson said IDS has addressed his questions about the center’s existing structure.
“It looks like they’ve done all their due diligence,” Swanson told Flint Beat, adding that the Prahl College Center is “going to turn out to be a very nice building. It’s a complete redo.”
Even so, Swanson and Everman raised further questions about the students’ utilization of the center.
“We’re doing a lot of remote learning on the computer,” Swanson said. “How many students are we going to have utilizing the building? But I’m taking the administration’s word that we need this.”
Both Swanson and Everman said they’d also like to see greater investment in MCC’s Regional Technology Center (RTC).
Everman added that he believes the “new board” has been “kept out of the loop” from the project to renovate the Prahl College Center. MCC did not respond to Flint Beat’s request for comment on those remarks.
As for Swanson, he said “it would have been nice to know more” about the project. He later added that “I would like to know the reasoning why they started the project.”
Board Secretary Wendy Wolcott, also a new board member, did not respond to Flint Beat’s request for comment on the project as of press time.
Meanwhile, Dale Weighill, MCC’s associate vice president of institutional advancement, wrote in an email that “MCC is always looking to keep our programming and facilities (including Prahl and the RTC) current to meet the needs of MCC students and employees, as well as employers and the larger community we serve.”
When it comes to renovating the Prahl College Center, the project’s goal is to “transform the building into a state-of-the-art higher education building, which includes new teaching & learning, Student Services, and career exploration spaces,” according to Weighill’s April presentation to the Board prior to its vote.
The cost of renovating the center amounts to nearly $32.5 million, and Weighill told Flint Beat that’s up from the original estimate of $25 million due to inflation. Confirmed funds for the project include a $12.5 million grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and $650,000 of federal funding, with $16.25 million of additional federal or state funding that is pending, according to Weighill’s presentation.
The rest of the funding would come from MCC’s bonding authority given by voters from the March 2020 election, he told Flint Beat.
Board Trustee Art Reyes welcomed what’s to come for the center.
“[I’m] very excited for the new Prahl Center and the experience that it’ll bring to our students and community,” Reyes told Flint Beat.
The center’s upper level will serve as MCC’s technology and cybersecurity hub, with features like virtual reality and artificial intelligence labs.
“The space will accommodate computer networking, cybersecurity and computer repairs courses,” MCC President Beverly Walker-Griffea said during her presentation to a state of Michigan subcommittee in April. “Our Mott IT faculty offices and collaboration spaces will be located there. The computer IT service center will function as an experiential learning laboratory for our students, with our students servicing the outside community as a part of their educational experience.”
The center will be renamed to the Prahl Innovation Center once construction is complete, and the start date for construction remains to be determined. Its main floor will be MCC’s virtual enrollment hub, while the lower level will see spaces for hosting businesses, students, faculty and staff.
“This portion of the Prahl Innovation Center will feature a constant mix and combination of virtual and in-person visits to MCC by employers that are local, state, national or even worldwide,” Walker-Griffea said of the center’s lower level.
The renovation project will include exterior improvements too, Christa Azar, the IDS project manager, told the Board on Monday. She added that the bidding and construction process for the project will take roughly two years.