New PCC campus isn't needed, officials say

2013-09-14T00:00:00Z New PCC campus isn't needed, officials sayBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A proposed new $40 million campus for Pima Community College may have been popular with online voters, but it isn’t needed, two college officials say.

Pima County’s top bureaucrat is poised to pull the plug on the project, which has already cost taxpayers more than $100,000 in fees the college paid a lobbyist to promote it.

The concept of a new PCC health-care education campus, first floated in 2007, ranked highly in a recent online poll to gauge public support for projects that could potentially be funded with county bond money.

It was among the top 25 most popular of 144 projects the county had been considering until the effort was put on hold Friday.

“In my opinion, we do not need a health-care campus and never did,” said Sylvia Lee, who retired as a PCC campus president in 2011 and now is a member of the college’s Governing Board.

She said the proposal was the brainchild of former PCC Chancellor Roy Flores, who resigned last year after eight women accused him of sexual harassment.

Lee, a member of Flores’ cabinet for several years, said he sold the idea by claiming it would allow the school to train more registered nurses to help ease a statewide shortage.

In fact, Lee said, PCC is limited in how many nurses it can produce because there aren’t enough clinical training slots for those students at local hospitals. Would-be nurses are required to do part of their training in a real-world setting.

Lou Albert, president of PCC’s West Campus, where most health-care programs now are housed, said the new campus may have been feasible when first proposed, but not any more.

Back then, there were only two Tucson sites training nurses: PCC and the University of Arizona. Now, he said, there are at least six, including Northern Arizona University, Grand Canyon University, the University of Phoenix and Pima Medical Institute.

All now compete for a dwindling number of training slots as the nursing shortage has eased and some hospitals have closed beds, Albert said.

The new PCC campus was to be built as part of the former Kino Hospital complex on East Ajo Way, which now is run by the  UA.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a memo Friday that the PCC proposal is unlikely to go ahead, and that the $40 million should be set aside until a more suitable plan is developed for the site.

Meanwhile, the college recently cut ties with longtime lobbyist Dan Eckstrom, a former county supervisor who was hired by PCC under no-bid contracts that violated the school’s procurement rules, according to Arizona’s auditor general.

Eckstrom has billed taxpayers nearly $270,000 since 2007, much of it for pitching the PCC health campus to county officials.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

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