The legacy Central High School arch at the Madison College downtown campus.
On the surface, I like the plan of Jack Daniels — the president of Madison College, not an anthropomorphized liquor bottle — to sell the downtown Madison College campus, not renew the lease of the West Campus, and secure a larger, more permanent campus on the south side of town.
Daniels correctly identifies the south side as the area with the most need for educational opportunities. The area of South Park Street near the Beltline has been looking awfully snazzy as of late, and a new campus would be a good addition. A college campus sounds like a much better use of the old Thorstad Chevrolet lot than a public market I’m still not sure anyone wants. In my north-side neck of the woods, the recently remodeled Truax campus does a lot to beautify the area around the airport.
Plus, the downtown campus is one valuable block. There are few parcels of land, if any, that big left around the Capitol. A developer trying for a big project like a hotel or apartments/condos would normally have to negotiate with a lot of different property holders and deal with relocating a couple historic houses to get that much space in the neighborhood.
With all the government buildings and churches in that neighborhood, I’d like to see a downtown building that wasn’t tax exempt. I just hope any potential owners find a way to preserve the Madison Central arch.
Once again, this all looks good on the surface, but Daniels wants to get this sale moving quickly, and there are still a lot of questions.
Is an expanded south-side campus accessible to those without a car? Where is there a south-side location that offers enough space for the services they want to offer, a parking lot, room for future expansion — and is accessible by bus? What’s the impact going to be on Madison Metro routes? Will this put additional strain on buses going to both Truax and the new campus? Getting from the West Transfer Point to the South Transfer Point already takes way too long.
How many students pick Madison College as opposed to a two-year UW campus because it offers both a great value and the fun of living near downtown? What partnership opportunities will be lost by moving the arts programs away from downtown?
Where’s the money coming from for a new campus? It sounds like some of the sale of the downtown property would go to cover current gaps. New campus buildings are expensive. It took a $133 million referendum to build three new facilities at Truax. Daniels has said the chances of a new facilities referendum are slim. Without a referendum, will these new campuses have enough space to make up for the loss of the downtown and west campuses?
And finally, why does the president professionally go by the name Jack Daniels? Isn’t there like a middle name he could use?
These are all questions that could be answered in a relatively short amount of time. But Daniels wants to rush the sale, requesting that the college’s board make a decision at its May 13 meeting. I acknowledge that Daniels has serious pressures — a budget gap and leases that are expiring — but I’m concerned that hasty action may lead to unforeseen consequences.
Daniels’s plan deserves consideration, but the board should know more before it makes a final decision.