The State Center Community College District, which governs five Valley campuses, is considering adding a $485 million bond measure to next year’s ballot that would expand existing schools, build new campuses and construct a much-needed parking garage at Fresno City College.
“We grew 9 percent as a district last year,” said Chancellor Bill Stewart. “And we grew another 6 percent this year. We need the facilities to accommodate this growth.”
The $485 million plan was drafted by Stewart and retired associate vice chancellor Brian Speece. It was presented on Sept. 22 to the seven-member board, which unanimously decided to start putting together information on exact costs and needs. The board hopes to present its findings for comment from the public before voting in August on whether to add a bond measure to the 2016 November ballot.
The proposal includes $170 million for construction at Fresno City College. The bulk of these funds would go to two $50 million projects: building a new math and science building, and the construction of a 1,500-space parking garage.
The proposal includes new or modernized buildings at the district campuses in Reedley, Clovis and Madera; constructing a new Oakhurst Center; and money that could match donations to construct a new performing arts center.
The parking garage would meet the current and future needs of the central Fresno campus, the report said. Insufficient parking space is the No. 1 complaint fielded by the district from students, staff and community members. The proposal does not specify where this structure would be placed.
The new math building is essential because the current one, the report says, no longer can meet the technological and educational needs of students. The existing building, which was built in 1973, does not have enough lab space. Expanding or renovating the building isn’t an option because of the old plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.
Another priority would be constructing a new campus in southeast Fresno. The proposal lays out $60 million to develop 120 acres at Clovis and North avenues already owned by the district into a one-stop shop vocational center. The district’s vocational program, fire academy and police academy would be housed in this new location.
The remaining $10 million in the Fresno portion of the proposal would go toward establishing a small campus in west Fresno that would house programs to help the local community.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin already has weighed in – and while encouraging State Center’s efforts, she has made it clear the city wants the district’s plans to reflect some of City Hall’s priorities.
“The SCCCD is one of the most important institutions on the Valley floor,” she said. “It’s a major partner for the city of Fresno.”
Partner is the operative word. Although she sent the board a letter offering “the City of Fresno’s input,” some of the board’s proposals go straight through City Hall – including the parking garage.
Swearengin said the proposed garage would have to be pedestrian friendly. She envisions a ground floor with retail shops and open walkways, with the parking wrapping around or stacked above the bottom floor. This is something that a lot of cities are doing in areas of parking need, she added.
“The city has responsibility for the right-of-way outside the campus,” she said. “The college has to work with us to improve pedestrian access from Blackstone.”
The revitalization of Blackstone Avenue, Fresno City College’s eastern border, is a primary target for Swearengin in her final year as mayor.
Swearengin’s letter asked the board to consider a few other points, which walk a line between suggestions and demands.
The board should consider acquiring nearby property to expand Fresno City College, Swearengin said, and pursue a downtown Fresno location for its headquarters. The board currently meets on the Fresno City campus.
Swearengin didn’t come to the table empty-handed.
She informed the board that the city’s code-enforcement staff has been directed to target the neighborhood north of the campus, where blight has long been a safety concern for residents, students and staff.
She also mentioned a $150,000 planning grant the city recently landed, which could be used to formulate a master plan to beef up pedestrian and public transportation facilities around the campus.
Finally, the city offered the board a 48-acre parcel of land at 2021 South Peach Ave. as a possible site for its southeast Fresno vocational schools.
Stewart, State Center’s chancellor, believes this land could be easier to build on, but it also comes with a few question marks.
The parcel was ceded to the city by the federal government on the condition it be turned into a park or recreation area. Many community groups are determined to see it transformed into soccer fields or other green space.
Swearengin confirmed this, but said she believes the federal government would sign off on vocational schools in this location because of a glaring community need. The city could find somewhere else in southeast Fresno to build a park, she said.
Stewart isn’t so sure the feds would agree with the city. His proposal does not make any mention of Swearengin’s pedestrian-friendly mandate or a possible district office relocation to downtown Fresno.
However, Stewart stressed that the entire bond proposal is in its infancy – much of it will change in the next 10 months.
Trustee Richard Caglia said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a new bond measure would pass in 2016.
However, the board is still focused on finding a new chancellor, Caglia said. Stewart, who also held the post from 1985 to 1999, was brought back on an interim basis in March 2014 after the controversial ousting of Deborah Blue.
Stewart is also confident that the measure would pass. He cited a survey in September 2014 that showed 61.8 percent of residents within the district would support a $600 million bond measure to improve and expand the campuses.
He said any information campaign used in support of a district bond measure would stress that the district follows all bond-spending procedure “down to the letter.” The board and chancellor’s office are aware of the controversy swirling around the Fresno Unified School District, which is under fire for spending $37 million in bond funds on a lease-leaseback deal with Harris Construction, and will look to ease voter’s minds early.
“Our district has never been into any lease-leaseback agreements of any kind during my time here,” Stewart said. “We’ve done a great job, and people will respond positively to our building needs.”
State Center Community College District bond plan
State Center trustees are exploring a bond measure for the November 2016 ballot to expand and modernize district facilities, including adding new campuses. This is what currently is being discussed.
Fresno City College
New math and science building
West Fresno facility
Life science building upgrade
Ag buildings upgrades
Fundraising match for performance arts center
Up to $5 million
Clovis Community College
Applied technology building
Development of alternate location
Complete academic village 1 building
Addition to manufacturing building
Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
Total Proposed Bond Cost
Source: State Center Community College District