Presenting a plan to pump life into SJC

By HARLEY TOMLINSON

Saint Joseph’s College alum and former administrator at the college, Bill Hogan (standing), was on hand at eMbers Thursday to help friend and partner Mark Zwartynski make a presentation to an audience that included Rensselaer Mayor Steve Wood.

RENSSELAER — Mark Zwartynski made his pitch. Now he hopes it connects with those who currently make decisions at Saint Joseph’s College.

Zwartynski, a 1974 graduate of SJC and CEO of Mark Andrew Group in Texas, introduced his company’s business plan to invigorate the college to its board of trustees on the Zoom platform Thursday afternoon. He was back on Zoom at eMbers Thursday night to discuss his plan with people he hopes will jump on board if SJC’s trustees approve specifics of the plan.

The proposal includes but is not limited to building the entire physical structure of the campus, bringing back academic and certificate programming and developing the athletic center into a community recreation center.

Included in the audience at eMbers were Rensselaer Mayor Steve Wood and city council members. Zwartynski offered a passionate 40-minute presentation from his home in Texas with the help of a laptop due to COVID concerns.

Zwartynski’s SJC classmate and longtime friend Bill Hogan was on hand to answer questions once the presentation was complete. Hogan recently served as the vice president of advancement for the current regime at the college, resigning in 2019.

He is also a former student, basketball player, coach and athletic director at SJC before taking a job at San Francisco University.

Zwartynski emphasized that bringing the college back to its former state as a four-year institution needs to be a collaborate effort.

“The City of Rensselaer is very important,” he said. “It won’t come back without combining the city, the college and the county.”

He is also aware — as he told SJC trustees in that meeting — that it will require a series of steps.

“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “(Securing) Accreditation (at the college) is not the first problem.”

Saint Joe officials have said they would like for the college, which closed its doors in 2017 due to lagging enrollment and financial woes, to become accredited as an institution of higher learning by spring of 2024.

Support from the state of Indiana could also figure into the equation at some point, said Zwartynski, who has reached out to both Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch.

“The governor’s office is well aware of what we’re doing in Rensselaer,” he said.

Zwartynski and Hogan have met with many individuals who could help drive the business plan if it is allowed to operate as they hope. They have had meetings with local, county and state officials, local business owners and media outlets, CEOs of companies interested in bringing their businesses to Jasper County and SJC alumni.

Those meetings helped create a 128-page business plan by The Mark Andrew Group. Two parts of the plan were distributed to those in attendance at eMbers with the remaining two parts accessible by request.

Included among the initial plans is the creation of a director of communications, who will serve as a liaison between the college and the communities.

“That person’s job description would be to communicate, go to all the meetings that are open in the City of Rensselaer and Jasper County and come back and report that to the folks at the college,” Zwartynski said.

“Everything that happens at the college, that person would report to everybody in the community.

“Communication is important.”

He went a step further, proposing the formation of a committee that includes SJC officials and alumni as well as representatives of the community to build transparency.

Besides an executive brief of the business plan, a detailed layout of a proposed recreation, fitness and aquatic center was also made available.

If the center was to include a senior center and a youth center, it would be eligible for state funding, Zwartynski said. Grant money could also be pumped into any main street projects Rensselaer would like to see developed.

Zwartynski said the city could enhance its historical downtown square as another drawing card.

Another way to bridge the college and county communities is the creation of a museum at the college. It would include materials related to SJC’s history as well as housing materials on the City of Rensselaer and Jasper County histories.

Zwartynski said there is grant money out there for a museum as well.

But what can be done in the plan hinges on the board of trustees’ ultimate decision. After Thursday’s meeting, the board informed Zwartynski that it would mull over all or parts of his proposal.

SJC alum Sheila Broussard said Thursday’s meeting with the trustees was well received, adding that they responded with a standing ovation after Zwartynski’s presentation.

Zwartynski and Hogan hopes they get a decision before the winter season.

“Let’s look over the whole situation,” Zwartynski said. “What it is and what does it cost? We’ll find out. I promise you we will figure out a plan as to how we should go forward; what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. We can create our own niche, our own differentiation. There are going to be young people and parents who will say, ‘I’m coming to Saint Joseph’s College because it is in Rensselaer. They work together and they have programs together.’”

If the trustees give the okay, Hogan said the campus infrastructure will be addressed first. Water lines at the college are a concern as well as the Halleck Student Center.

“There were seven of those centers built in the country and six have collapsed,” Hogan said. “The condition of the center at Saint Joe is not that great. And the science building is a concern.”

ADA issues need to be addressed on at least one building while some of the dorms have structure issues. The apartments that were built in 1995 are in good shape, Hogan said.

“There are some things that need to be addressed. We just need to get a good handle on what that expense would be,” Hogan said.

He added that there are currently 300 graduates in Rensselaer, so having a college is a definite boost to the local economy.

“It’s city, college and county working together,” he said. “It’s a win, win, win.”