Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College buys former BCMH building

L’ANSE – The Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College has officially purchased the former Baraga County Memorial Hospital building in L’Anse to use as its east campus.

The building has been vacant since the new hospital opened on U.S. 41 in June 2011, and voters twice turned down countywide ballot initiatives to transfer county courthouse functions to the location. The KBOCC expressed interest last year and, after waiting months for environmental assessments to be completed and paperwork to be finalized, the deed was signed and the building purchased for $1 on April 16.

“It’s a miracle,” said BCMH Chief Executive Officer Tim Zwickey, who said the hospital has had to pay about $10,000 per month to heat the old building. “It’s really good for us and it will be a really good thing for the community and the tribal college. … I thought it would happen, but until those documents are signed, you never know.”

KBOCC had hoped to begin renovation in January and be open in September, but a three-phase, three-year renovation plan will begin now and part of the facility will open in early 2014.

“It’s been several months we’ve been waiting (for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality indoor air quality and hazardous material assessments, and a building inspection), and we thought we’d be able to get in the facility this fall, but we won’t be able to relocate anything there until January,” KBOCC President Debbie Parrish said. “I’m very excited about this, the new campus and what’s going on with the college.”

KBOCC has secured about $2 million in grant funding over five years, with $875,000 in Department of Education funding going into the first phase of construction. That will include installing a new heating and cooling system by Bianco Heating and Plumbing. Gundlach-Champion will serve as the general contractor.

Other renovations will also include developing nine classrooms, using the former patient rooms as offices and creating a new library, entrepreneurial center and wellness center. A distance learning program and video conferencing will be part of the final phase of renovations in 2015.

A house across Main Street, which was previously occupied by doctors Pete Carmody and Alin Sora, will house the OCC Child Care Center for students attending afternoon/evening classes.

The industrial kitchen remaining in the building will be used as a cafeteria and will likely be the hub of culinary arts classes, which, along with a federal certified nursing assistant program, need to be approved by the Board of Regents.

KBOCC still plans to use the four facilities it is now divided between, but having one large campus building will aid the college’s accreditation process through the North Central Association.

“During a recent accreditation visit (in November) it was noted our facility here was not adequate because we had a lot of shared office space,” Parrish said. “This will help us with our accreditation space for the students, faculty and staff.”

Another NCA higher learning commission visit is slated for May 7, and the college’s board of regents will likely take official action on accreditation and perhaps new programs at its June meeting.

KBOCC will hold its spring commencement exercises at 1 p.m. today at the KBOCC Gymnasium. Six students will be receiving two-year degrees in either environmental science or liberal studies.