Newly appointed chairman of the Community College of Allegheny County Board of Trustees, William R. Robinson noted it is unique among colleges in southwestern Pennsylvania for having African-Americans as chair and a college president.
“Having Black faces in high places has its benefits, but it’s of momentary significance,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s about taking this from a very good college to a great college. I don’t think we can grow as a community college without looking at where the African-American population lives and what facilities we have that are accessible. “
Robinson said though opportunities for income growth lie to the North of the city, the potential growth in student enrollment is in the East and South, where there are larger Black populations.
“We are charged to create the future workforce for the county. And I think if we’re really going to provide access to everyone, the Homewood-Brushton and Braddock Hills centers have to be expanded. While these students don’t provide us with the greatest revenue potential they are who K. Leroy Irvis and Tom Forrester envisioned when they created the college.”
Robinson said the college must improve its flagship Allegheny Campus as well because not only do the majority of the college’s Black students attend classes there, it is also most in need of capital improvements.
“It is overwhelmingly Black, and it also accounts for 60 percent of our deferred maintenance. First and foremost, it must be maintained,” he said.
“We will be moving forward with the $22 million Irvis Science Center project now that we have a system in place to address the contracting issue.”
The college abandoned plans to grant contracts for the center’s construction in August after New Pittsburgh Courier columnist Louis “Hop” Kendrick noted that no Black contractors were included and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Pa. filed a lawsuit to rescind a Project Labor Agreement requiring 90 percent union labor.
Robinson said those issues have been resolved and a system is in place to insure they do not arise again. There will be Black faces working on the project from start to finish.
“I don’t believe the unions or independent contractors will be satisfied,” he said. “We did what was in the best interests of students to put this building up in a way that will reflect life and values of K. Leroy Irvis.”
Robinson said the Community College of Allegheny County Foundation is also beginning a major fundraising effort to secure $30 million for additional capital improvements and operational expenses over the next three years. He said the college must focus on the needs of its students, faculty and the community in that order.
“We are number two or three in supplying graduates to the healthcare industry, and we have put technical programs in place to help people take advantage of the Marcellus Shale development boom,” he said. “We have 177 different programs overall and an outstanding faculty.”
Robinson said the new contracts for the Irvis building construction will be announced by the middle of February. He said state senator and board member Jay Costa will present a report on the contracts to the board Feb. 4.