Proposed transportation center project put on hold at Riverland

Published 1:52 pm Saturday, October 19, 2013

Riverland Community College administrators are settling in for a six-month introspective look at themselves.

The college is putting several projects on hold, including a proposed transportation center in Albert Lea, as it begins a six-month strategic planning project this week.

“We want to revisit where we’ve been and really look at where we’re going,” said Mary Davenport, Riverland’s vice president of academic and student affairs.

Mary Davenport

Mary Davenport

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Riverland signaled it would go through strategic planning for the next three to five years after new president Adenuga Atewologun began his tenure July 1. At the same time, Riverland’s parent organization, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, is also beginning a long-range strategic plan, which could result in a massive system realignment, which means increased cooperation between colleges and universities and potential mergers as the process continues.

College staff held four community meetings in Albert Lea, Austin and Owatonna over the past few weeks in order to get input on its programs and how Riverland can improve. Riverland will pass on comments from those meetings to MnSCU officials for its strategic planning process. Though some faculty statewide have criticized MnSCU for not considering scholastic affairs in its strategic planning — the Inter Faculty Organization publicly criticized the plan last month for focusing too much on job training and not enough on innovation — Riverland officials say they are seeking a balance between providing that innovative thinking in the classroom while teaching the employable skills local businesses need.

“We should not discount liberal arts, the value of liberal arts,” Atewologun said last week. “We recognize that there is a whole lot of value for people being able to be critical thinkers.”

At the same time, Riverland officials are pausing projects like a proposed transportation center at its Albert Lea campus, which the college submitted to the state for capital bond funding this year. According to Riverland officials, the college had proposed combining its automotive programs in Albert Lea in order to maximize resources. College officials asked the state for about $5 million to renovate the campus and build the center, but the state Legislature did not fund the project this year.

That doesn’t mean the project won’t come up in the future, according to Davenport. Instead, the transportation center and other projects like it are likely to be retooled after Riverland completes its strategic planning process.

“We want to revisit where we’ve been and really look at where we’re going,” she said.

The strategic planning process will likely wrap up in mid-April.