VCC opens new housing - Dignitaries celebrate ribbon cutting day at Timber Ridge

NORTHEAST HIGHER EDUCATION PRESIDENT and Ely native Bill Maki greeted those gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, as Vermilion Community College celebrated the completion of a $6.5 million student housing complex.

by Tom Coombe -

Vermilion Community College attracts most of its students from over 200 miles away, and in a typical year its student body comes from more than 20 states.
Those were two of the key reasons why school and area officials were beaming Tuesday, when Vermilion celebrated the opening of Timber Ridge - its new student housing units.
With 112 beds, the 26,000 square foot, $6.5 million complex brings a significant upgrade to VCC’s student housing stock and is the culmination of at least a decade of work by campus leaders.
Bill Maki, president of the Northeast Higher Education District, told an audience of about 60 people that the project was “years in the making, but well worth the wait.”
“Having quality housing is not a luxury, it is a necessity and an expectation for incoming students,” said Maki.
Maki, Vermilion Provost Shawn Bina and Davinder Malhotra, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, were among the school officials to offer remarks before a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and tours of the brand-new townhome units, now ready for the arrival of VCC students this weekend and the start of the 2017-18 school year.
They were among several officials to credit former state legislator and current MnSCU Trustee Jerry Janezich with key behind-the-scenes work that turned Vermilion’s dream into a reality. Janezich, who lives in Chisholm, said his persistence was due to a simple motivation.
“I would never let my kids go anywhere that was not good enough, why would anybody else?” asked Janezich.
Janezich said Vermilion owed it to its students, who come to Ely from across the Midwest and nation, to replace its aging college duplex units that will finally be retired because of the opening of Timber Ridge.
Timber Ridge will house Vermilion students in four buildings, each with three townhome units with common living areas on the bottom floor and bedroom and bathroom areas on the top two floors.
The complex will add about 30 new beds to VCC’s housing stock, beds that Bina said were badly needed.
Bina, who took Vermilion’s top administrative job in 2010 and nurtured the project from its inception, said that with Timber Ridge, VCC will accommodate more than 60 percent of its full-time students with on-campus housing.
School officials have long contended that Vermilion has carved its own niche as a two-year residential college, and even with Timber Ridge open, VCC opens the school year at 100 percent capacity in on-campus housing.
“Vermilion Community College is not the stereotypical two-year college,” said Maki.
Both Maki and Bina also credited Sue Collins, a former VCC provost and Maki’s predecessor as president of the five-college consortium that includes Vermilion.
Mark Phillips, commissioner of the Iron Range Resourses and Rehabilitation Board, said the project’s roots date back to the 1980s, when former State Sen. Doug Johnson steered changes in state law that allowed two-year schools to build on-campus housing.
“If that (prohibition) remained, we knew Vermilion would not survive,” said Phillips.
Phillips said the project not only is a boon to Vermilion, but another amenity for Ely and part of a quality of life improvements that “drives entrepreneurship and business start-ups.”
State Sen. Tom Bakk, a former carpenter who worked as a business agent for the carpenters’ union when VCC’s first dormitories were built three decades ago, asked the audience to salute a group of people who were missing from this week’s celebration: the carpenters who built the complex.
“This morning they put on their tool belts and went to build something else,” said Bakk.