GCCC trustees hear from residents of mobile home park

2/20/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Community members living in mobile homes on a property purchased by the college attended the Garden City Community College’s Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night, asking about being compensated for their homes.

According to Herbert Swender, college president, the property at 1706 E. Spruce St., was purchased from Business Management Properties in November. Tenants living in purchased mobile homes on the property have until March 15 to find a different location to live, he said.

Sam Hermocillo, who represented the residents in the mobile homes, spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting. He said the majority of the mobile homes on the lot are too old to move, meaning the mobile home owners will have to give up their homes.

In mobile home parks or locations, oftentimes the owner of the location owns the ground and the mobile home is owned by the occupant.

Hermocillo asked the college about exploring compensation for those homes, which will be destroyed and removed from the property.

“They are not allowed to be moved because of the law of the state,” he said.

He asked if the college officials were aware that there were people living on the property when the property was purchased.

He said the community lacks transparency.

“It may be legally right, but it’s morally wrong,” he said.

He compared the situation to the Trail of Tears.

“It reminds me of the Trail of Tears — the movement of people without benefits, representation or compensation,” he said.

Hermocillo asked that the college start a dialogue about compensations with the people affected.

He said they have contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about what can be done.

Swender pointed out that the college was merely the purchaser of the property, but it would sit down and discuss options.

Swender also pointed out some misinformation. The group of homeowners was under the impression the site was to be part of the agriculture department and funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“There were no federal monies involved,” Swender said.

He said the college doesn’t know what they will use the property for at this time.

“We talked about housing — putting up some affordable housing. The community needs more housing and that’s one way to do that. We’ve had that conversation. There are some other program areas we can expand,” he said.

Hermocillo asked what Swender thought about the people being uprooted and displaced.

“We are the purchaser. The property was owned by someone else. If not us, it would have been someone else,” he said.

In a separate interview with The Telegram, Swender said the college was approached by the property owner for the sale.

Hermocillo asked the board members if they would be willing to participate in a community meeting.

Most nodded.

Dr. William Clifford said he would not participate in the meeting, and that he would defer any questions to the college’s lawyer.

About 20 men, women and children from the mobile homes attended Tuesday night’s meeting.

Swender, although apologetic to the situation, urged the home owners to talk to the property management company.

Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, Moises Perez, student body president, and Donna Gerstner, who represents Finney County in chronic disease risk reduction, talked about efforts to make GCCC a tobacco-free campus. The initiative is several years in the making.

“It’s good for the community, and it’s good for the students,” Gerstner said. “I strongly recommend that hopefully this year you look at making a tobacco-free policy for Garden City Community College — for the entire campus.”

Swender said the governing body is waiting for something to develop through the student government.

Merilyn Douglass, board chair, urged the the student government to make progress on the initiative.

“A lot of us are supportive. We’re just waiting for something from the student government,” she said.

Linda Morgan, director of the criminal justice program, spoke Tuesday night about the growing demand for the concealed-carry classes the college offers for the community.

She said although the interest in the concealed-carry classes may wane, the women-focused courses may continue to grow in popularity. The National Rifle Association Women on Target class is often crowded, she said.

She said the college plans to offer more classes that are women-focused, including a self-protection and defense class.

Worf said the classes show GCCC listens to the community.

“It’s a good example of responding to meeting people’s needs,” she said.

In other business, the board discussed its policies and transparency with the public.

Clifford urged the college to strengthen communication. He said what the college does often is not questioned, but how it’s done is.

“The general issue is communication,” he said.

In consent agenda action, and during other segments of the meeting, the board:

• Approved tuition rates for the 2013-2014 academic year: increase of $3 per credit hour for in-state students, and an increase of $2 per credit hour for out-of-state and bordering-state students.

• Approved the purchase of technology equipment for the college’s Food Safety mobile classroom. The $43,491.85 purchase is funded by the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant that the college was awarded in 2011.

• Approved the following personnel actions: Matt Miller promoted to head football coach; Sue Pollart transferred to accommodations coordinator; and the resignations of Jeff Tatum, Eric Gibson and Grace Donecker.

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