Students work at the community garden planted at Three Rivers Community College.
Students work at the community garden planted at Three Rivers Community College. Mark Pazniokas /

The students of Three Rivers Community College (TRCC) write this because we are frustrated with the way money is being spent at our school, while we, the students, continue to lack support for our community outreach projects that not only better our own educations, but support the school’s efforts to be an example of good stewardship, sustainability, and to benefit our community.

Our professor felt apprehensive about us writing this op-ed and suggested we hold off, but frankly the students have had enough. This issue is too important, our voices must be heard, and freedom of speech and the press are part of the very fabric of education.

How is it that the Finance Committee for the Board of Regents for Higher Education is making huge budget cuts, grossly affecting the staff and students at the Connecticut state colleges and universities, yet, at the same time, large sums are being allocated for renovations at the very same schools?

According to the Analysis of Unallocated Balances and New Authorizations for the General Bonding Subcommittee which was published by the Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) on March 24 of this year, (beginning at the top of page 26) $175 million is up for “Automatic Annual Authorization and Allocation” for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) “infrastructure improvement program.”  The Community Colleges are projected to get $15.5 million of that for “deferred maintenance, code compliance and infrastructure improvements” (pg. 28 of OFA analysis).

Three Rivers Community College (TRCC) boasts a fine building that is less than ten years old.  They’re looking at getting $11.6 million of that $15.5 million for “renovations to existing buildings and additional facilities…. (pg. 33 of OFA analysis).”  With great interest we read in the May 21 article, written for the CT Mirror by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas entitled “What cuts loom at each CSCU campus?”  TRCC is looking to cut five faculty and 30 staff. It also reads that TRCC intends to “discontinue 26 courses, reduce student welcome center staffing, eliminate Saturday operating hours ($38,000 savings), and have more courses taught by adjuncts.”  They’ve already let some staff go and closed on Saturdays.

We don’t presume to know anything about the politics of the education system, but if they are allocated such funds, why are they making all of these cuts?  Yes we know about the different “pots” of money. Why are they spending millions on renovating a newer building?  Why aren’t they supporting the faculty and staff that they already have?  And what about us, the students?  This only translates to higher costs for us! Don’t we have a voice in this?

We are multiple award-winning students who excel in our programs and many of us are well on our way to earning our associates degrees along with multiple certifications, with which we plan to continue our education at a four-year university of our choice.  For the students, community college is an affordable and invaluable stepping-stone to higher education.

The way TRCC intends to spend this money is so discouraging because, for almost four years, a group of students have been requesting access to water for ongoing, school program sponsored, community outreach projects and have gotten nowhere.  We have personally been vested in our projects because we strongly believe they are meaningful and relevant, not only for our education, but for our school and our community as well.

The Environmental Club, TRUE (Three Rivers United Environmentalists), built a working, usable, and efficient mock solar panel roof. The mock solar panel roof was built to educate and train new solar installers. It can power the utility building providing 3 KwH.  Norwich Public Utilities was on board with the project and donated time and effort to connect it to the main power source in the utilities building and even agreed to repave the parking lot once the connection was completed, but the administration wouldn’t allow it.

It is now connected to the grid. It’s just been sitting there for two years hidden from view. We worked through two summers to complete this project with our professor. We are very proud of this accomplishment. We also built a greenhouse (grant funded) and seven 8-foot by 4-foot raised garden beds with the intention of growing fresh produce to donate to community aid organizations such as the food banks so that the public in need have a fresh and healthy option when they go to a place like a food bank for food.

The only problem is that we couldn’t get the administration at TRCC to give us access to the water spigot that is less than 50 feet from the gardens.  People would joke about what they called our “weed garden.”  We ask you, how are we supposed to sustain any garden without water?

This past spring 2015 semester, we finally got the approval to put in a bib which is a water line that will be installed in the maintenance building to the outside wall but that is going to cost the student’s club $1,400.00 (Yes the students were told we have to pay!). We also have to pay for a fence.

The TRUE club also recently worked in collaboration with the Connecticut NOFA Organic Land Care Director and the Program Director for CT NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) to install a rain garden funded by the Connecticut SeaGrant of the Long Island Sound Study Program. Our rain garden project is for the redirection and filtration of storm water runoff at the school.  While these plants are establishing, they must be watered twice a week.  This further illustrates the need for water access.

We don’t have $1,400 for an extension (bib) of the water line.  All TRCC clubs are allotted $1,200 per semester. The funds are obligated for hosting public events. TRUE’s three biggest projects, the mock solar panel roof, the garden beds and the rain garden, are sustainable ongoing student ventures that will benefit the community as well as the school and student hands-on learning.

This is not a one-semester project that a couple of random students made up for fun.  This is something much bigger than our club. Both of the garden projects are extraordinary tools and examples for teaching sustainability, stewardship and community outreach indefinitely.  Since TRCC’s campus theme is sustainability, it seemed like a natural step in the direction of both the school and the TRUE club.  If connecting a water line is so much trouble, then why not let the cost come out of the $11.6 million dollars that TRCC is getting for “deferred maintenance, code compliance and infrastructure improvements?”

We find it difficult to argue that a water extension to maintain a community garden on school grounds for the students learning experience, the betterment and beautification of the campus, and the community alike doesn’t fall under these categories.

Three Rivers United Environmentalists (TRUE): Courtney Scruggs, President; Troy Wood, Vice President; Michael O’Connor, Treasurer; Jennifer Messervy, Secretary; Nic Tedesco, Information Technology.

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