|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, March 1, 2004
Desert Sun 2-28-04
Leaders rally for COD fix
PALM DESERT -- Well-manicured lawns, towering palm trees and modern-looking buildings immediately surrounding a courtyard and fountain give the community college campus an appealing look.
But College of the Desert’s setting masks myriad flaws from antiquated sewer and water systems to overcrowding that has forced the college to use portable classrooms and an aging diesel mechanics building for some programs.
Facing millions of dollars in facility needs for its one college over the next 10 to 15 years, the Desert Community College District is seeking approval of Measure B, a $346.5 million bond measure on the ballot Tuesday.
If the measure is approved, money raised would go to projects in four major categories:
New buildings on the main campus here.
Renovation of aging and deteriorating buildings and infrastructure there.
Construction of a new eastern valley center.
Development of a western valley center.
College officials say those improvements and repairs are needed to create the best opportunities for education for the valley’s growing population, whether students are preparing to transfer to universities, training for jobs or continuing their education.
"If we want this valley to continue being the place we love to live, work and retire in, this probably is the best and cheapest investment in the future any of us can make," said James Gray, chairman of the DCCD board of trustees.
"It’s the foundation for the college’s future," said Tyrone Thomas, president of COD’s Faculty Association.
"The community has grown but the college has stayed the same," Thomas said. "We’re doing a lot more with a lot less."
The $346.5 million measure will cost taxpayers just under $20 per year per $100,000 assessed valuation for up to about 40 years.
Measure B needs 55 percent of the vote for approval.
If voters pass the measure, bond proceeds would fund projects based on needs identified in master plan.
District officials said they had no choice but to seek taxpayer help in financing construction and renovation.
The district’s most immediate need is the replacement of an aging and deteriorating infrastructure, including the college’s sewer and water systems, said Superintendent/President Maria Sheehan..
"People tell us we need to fix what we have and they ask why haven’t we done it," Sheehan said.
The answer, she said, is lack of money.
State money pays for community colleges’ operational costs, but the state funds only a limited amount of colleges’ building and maintenance needs.
John Randall, the districts vice president for administrative services, said the district gets an average of $150,000 a year for maintenance -- and some years doesn’t get anything.
"You need to be able to count on the funding so a $200,000 problem doesn’t become a $2 million problem," Sheehan said.
The state maintenance funds may be used for repairs and upkeep or for instructional equipment. COD officials have made the latter their priority.
"You want to do things for the classroom first," Randall said.
The maintenance funding basically provides a band-aid approach to fixing things, Gray said.
"But the campus is 40 years old and worn out -- the band-aid only holds the sewer system for so long and then it breaks," he said.
The most recent example occurred last fall when the sewer system in the Hilb Student Center backed up, flooding the basement and causing $200,000 in damage.
A study of the campus about a year ago, part of a statewide review by the Community College Chancellor’s Office, concluded that major problems exist even though six buildings were renovated in the last six years. The study said the campus’ water, sewer and gas infrastructure was in "poor to critical" condition and it gave campus buildings an overall rating of "poor."
It also concluded:
Maintaining campus buildings at no worse than their present poor condition would require an investment of $21 million over the next 10 years.
Improving conditions to a "minimally fair" level would cost about $38 million during the same 10 years.
The cost of repairing four of the campus’ buildings exceeds 50 percent of their replacement cost.
Another state study several years found that nearly half of COD’s buildings needed retrofitting to make them safer in an earthquake.
Although Proposition 55, a statewide measure, Proposition 55, which also is on Tuesday’s ballot, would provide construction and renovation funds for K-12 schools, community colleges and the University of California and California State University systems, that money, too, is limited.
Even if Proposition 55 passes, COD cannot rely on those funds for all of its building and repair needs and must come up with a local funding source, Sheehan said.
What the statewide bond measure would do is maximize COD’s Measure B money by providing state matching funds for local projects.
"The state is far more prone to funding projects if it’s not picking up 100 percent of the tab," Gray said.
The state fully funded the cost of a new building on the campus once: when COD built the math and social science complex, which was completed in 2001.
That was the first new building erected on the campus in more than three decades.
COD’s first nine buildings were funded by a $3.5 million bond issue in 1959, with other buildings funded by a $2 million bond issue in 1964.
One of the new buildings planned if Measure B is approved is a "learning commons" that would bring together academic, student service and student life functions now scattered across the campus.
One improvement students want is additional parking, which is on the Measure B project list.
"There are not enough parking spaces," Alma Sanchez, 25, of Cathedral City said. "Sometimes it’s hard to find a place."
Other new facilities planned include buildings for the nursing and allied health program, public safety academy, child development center, a business and community center and an athletic complex.
In addition improvements on the main campus, Measure B would fund new eastern and western valley centers.
The district operates an Eastern Valley Center in a leased building in Indio. But population and student enrollment growth in the east valley make a new and larger center necessary, district officials said.
College officials expect the center to serve nearly 25 percent of COD’s instruction and services by 2015.
COD officials envision a full-service center on 100 acres in the Indio area or farther east. It would house facilities for instruction, student services, performing arts and recreational and community activities.
Students who now attend classes at the Eastern Valley Center said they’d like to see a center that offers more than just instruction.
"There should be a student center with places where students can go to study or purchase food," said Lentner Tom, 36, of Blythe. He’d also like a bookstore there.
Other students hope a new and larger east valley center would mean added courses.
"I’d like to see more classes, especially science," said Donna De La O, 38, of North Shore.
"I think we need more classes to choose from and more computers," said Gloria Bolanos, 40, of Indio, a liberal arts major.
In the west valley, the district wants to bring classes now provided at various locations to one site.
"Desert Hot Springs is growing rapidly and that will put pressure on the college eventually," district trustee Charles Hayden Jr. said.
"(Measure B) is a terrific opportunity to plan ahead," he said.
Facing the possibility voters could reject Measure B, Sheehan said the district would have to drastically pare back its facility plans.
"We’d just try to take care of the infrastructure with our sparse redevelopment funds," she said. "But we wouldn’t be able to build new buildings. And we’d be back to band-aids again."
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