Freeholder Walton criticizes Hunterdon Polytech space expansion and Dance program

A request that Hunterdon Polytech be allowed to rent an additional 5,575 square feet of space at its Bartles Corner location was approved by the Freeholders in a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, and only after some critical comments by board members.

Superintendent Kim Metz said that one reason for the space need is that the first-year Cosmetology program is over-enrolled by 20 students. The extra space would let them be accommodated as well as provide room to increase enrollment in other programs and create an All-Purpose Room, she said.

The Freeholder approval was needed in accord with a 2005 agreement that Polytech would not buy the property or lease additional space without the board’s OK. The three-year lease would cost $53,353 the first year but only $35,623 in new revenue would come in from additional adult classes, Metz said, for a loss of $17,731. She explained that while at least 27 high school students could be added, the tuition for them does not come in until the following year.

The second-year cost would be $70,007 but revenue from high school and adults students would be an estimated $113,102 for a difference of $43,095, she said. The third-year cost would rise to $76,853 with the same expected revenue.

Freeholder Rob Walton, who voted against the request, said he wants a comprehensive plan for the future of Polytech, the county’s vocation-technical school, before agreeing to any more “Band-Aid” solutions to problems.

“This isn’t good enough and we should not be giving you more space as a reward for not doing good enough,” he told Metz.

He also took the opportunity to lambaste Polytech’s recent addition of a Dance program, calling it “another ridiculous thing to offer.” In past years Freeholders have criticized the school for offerings they said seemed far from its core mission.

While Polytech is expanding Cosmetology, Walton continued, that is not necessarily what the county needs other than that “they’ll be well-groomed.”

The county and its institutions have to prepare people for jobs that will be in demand and he wonders if “hair dressing” careers are what Hunterdon’s future employment needs will be.

In explaining the need for more space, Metz reported that recently, Polytech enrollment had dropped to about 400 students but next year it’s expecting more than 500, “our highest enrollment in our 19-year history.”

Regarding the Dance program, which she noted Freeholder John King had already panned, she said that it came from a request by high school guidance counselors and is funded for two years by federal Perkins grant money. Dance is offered in partnership with Healthquest, a business near the Bartles campus.

According to the Polytech website listing, dancers perform technique exercises and movement sequences in ballet barre, modern phrase and jazz combination.

Walton questioned the necessity for Polytech to offer Dance, wondering “How many private dance studios are there in Hunterdon County where students can go?”

According to him, besides the Metz “excuse” that guidance counselors wanted this, “there’s no demonstrated need for dance or performing arts” to be offered in Hunterdon.

There are not employers “who say ‘we need to have more performing artists, we don’t have enough,’ ” Walton continued.
He was in a contested primary election Tuesday — which he won — for the Republican Party nomination to seek another term on the board.

“Good luck Rob, I still love you,” Metz said after the vote as she left the room. A minute later, Walton left the dais to rush out to the hallway, give her a hug and say he still loves her, too.

Freeholder John E. Lanza said while he would vote for the lease, he’d like to see the Polytech administration do more than merely “extending leases, getting bigger leases” and said he prefers to go “toward something that is more permanent.”

Freeholder Suzanne Lagay also said she would vote for it but questions the process of taking these steps before adopting a strategic plan for the future.

“It sounds very tactical, very reactionary” to repeatedly be taking interim measures, she said.

Freeholder Director Matt Holt said he also questions Polytech’s plans for the future and said the school may have to drop some offerings, even if they are popular with students, “because they may not necessarily be where the jobs will be in 10 years.”

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