By Nathan Mayberg
Newton — Over the past three years, 28 positions have been eliminated at Sussex Community College while a $2.88 million construction project was approved and more than $800,000 in contracts for the Sparta-based CP Engineers were awarded by the college board of trustees.
This past spring, the board and administration agreed to cut six positions. When school starts this fall, there will be also be six adjunct professors without classes to teach at the college, said Hank Pomerantz, a psychology professor and president of the college's adjunct union.
There are 171 adjunct professors at Sussex Community College.
"Many had reduced courseloads and many had reduced class sizes," Pomerantz said of the adjunct staff, who are paid based on the credit hours they teach. Some will also be teaching classes with more students, as there will be less classrooms available.
The main student building targeted for the construction has already been cleared in anticipation of the work, he said. The theatre will be holding a class with up to 72 students, he said.
Some classes will have as many as 50 students, he said.
Maureen Murphy-Smolka, president of the college's faculty union declined to comment for the story.
Meanwhile, the $2.88 million construction project which entails overhauling the air conditioning system, installing new windows and buttressing steal beams, is on hold while a second law firm reviews the bid process.
The Sussex Community College Board of School Estimate has delayed signing off on the bid while the review is being done. College officials expect the review to be completed as early as next week.
The bid by Newton-based Echelon Services has come under scrutiny as it was the only firm to bid on the project.
The bid specifications were written by CP Engineers, which was paying former trustee Glen Vetrano while he was still on the board. Vetrano resigned over the apparent conflict of interest. Board president Glenn Gavan has worked as an attorney for the engineering firm and has overseen meetings where CP Engineers was awarded contracts. He voted to bring the firm on as the college's engineers last year, though he as abstained from contracts given to the firm since.
"Obviously, they made some grievous mistakes," Pomerantz said. "I don't believe any of the mistakes were intentional," he said. "There was some carelesness."
Pomerantz said the construction project was needed but questioned how the cost estimate went up from $2 million to $2.6 million and how the bid came in even higher. "There is an absolute need for it. The building has to be restored in some respects to be safer. We need windows." Some of the windows have notes not to move them, he said. Each room has an individual cooling system, he said.
Pomerantz said the whole process should be redone.
Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson said the Sussex County Community College Board of School Estimate has not approved the capital ordinance required to allow the college to amend its budget and proceed with the construction. The authorization for the financing has been discussed by the board, but no action will be taken until "More information is made available," Eskilson said. "Collectively, they are waiting for the report by the law firm to be released," he said.
Pomerantz has seen a reduction in the number of students at the college over the past five years and believes that could affect the college's finances further in the future.
"It's cyclical," he said.