The Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees voted Wednesday evening, August 9, to put a $160 million bond measure to fund badly needed college classrooms, labs and other facilities needs on the November 7, 2006 general election ballot. The vote was unanimous (4-0). “This is a firm statement,” said Board president Bruce Fortine, “that this Board is convinced a significant need exists at College of the Canyons for more classrooms, labs, safety improvements and technology upgrades.
We believe voters will approve this bond, stressed Fortine, “because the college has proven, time and time again, that it is dedicated to helping local students, professionals and employers meet their educational and business goals – from nursing to technology-based careers to giving local high school students a jump start toward four-year degrees. The college has excelled,” concluded Fortine, “in nearly everything it has undertaken in the many years I have been associated with it and I am convinced that investment in the future of the college is a smart move that will pay dividends to the community long after we are gone.” The four-member board, one seat is vacant due to a resignation, was presented with in-depth information by college staff at a public, information meeting on August 7, about the projects that would be funded by a bond.
They heard that there is a dire need to increase the number of classrooms and labs for the training of critical professions, such as nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and law enforcement officers as well as needing more classrooms to serve a growing population of local students who need to take classes that will allow them to transfer to 4-year schools and to get training to enter the workforce.
Information was presented about how the college has been struggling to provide enough classes at times when students can take them. At peak times, from 8 am to 2 pm and from 6 pm to 10 pm, every classroom is in use and, in fact, classes are being held in areas not originally designed to hold classes, such as the faculty/staff dining room. As a result of this overcrowding, in last year’s fall semester 3,100 students applied but were not able to enroll in COC classes while 2,200 students were put on waiting lists for one or more classes.
This is a particular problem for working adults who can only take classes at night. Board members were told that 60 percent of the students who graduate from the Wm. S. Hart Union School District high schools attend College of the Canyons at some point. The governor also signed legislation recently lowering the unit fees at community colleges from $26 to $20 per unit. While this is a boon for students and parents’ pocketbooks, it will result in increased enrollments causing further overcrowding.
Community colleges in general, and College of the Canyons in particular, provide training for many of the critical jobs our society demands, from firefighters, to law enforcement, to teachers and nurses. Projections are that with baby-boomers retiring from the nursing professions, there will be a 100,000-nurse shortage in California by the year 2030. Despite that need, the waiting list to get into the College of the Canyons nursing program is 250 to 300 people long due to a lack of training facilities. “We can’t train the nurses that we need,” said Sue Albert, Dean of Allied Health for the college, “if we don’t have the facilities to train them in. It is as simple as that!” Albert also highlighted other health related professions such as radiology and histology technicians, physical therapy assistants, ultrasonography technicians and medical lab technicians as fields in which there will be future staffing issues if the means to train them can’t be found.
“We’re at a critical juncture,” stressed Superintendent-President, Dianne G. Van Hook, “in our ability to accommodate both our current and future enrollment and the community cannot rely on state funding alone to do it for them since that funding is very erratic and often falls short of the amounts actually needed by individual colleges. Having bond money available is extremely important,” added Van Hook, “since it would allow College of the Canyons to be eligible for more than $35 million of additional State matching funds in the next four years and close to $70 million in eight years for facilities improvements.”
The College of the Canyons main campus is located on 154 acres at the corner of Valencia Boulevard and Rockwell Canyon Road. It was designed 36 years ago for a maximum of 5,000 students. The college surpassed that mark years ago and this spring student population exceeded 18,000 – a number the state did not expect the college to reach until 2011. Projections now call for a student body exceeding 20,000 in less than three years. The growing cost of obtaining an education in the UC and Cal-State systems and the shift in the area economy toward skilled jobs that require more than a high school degree but don’t necessarily demand a traditional bachelor’s degree means more students will be turning to College of the Canyons.
The growth in the area has also been a factor in planning at the college for many years and the administration has responded to this by planning ahead, developing Educational and Facilities Master Plans and being prepared to add new educational programs or construct new facilities as soon as the need is documented. Build out of the main campus and construction of a separate campus in Canyon Country, which would relieve overcrowding on the main campus, have been in the master plans for many years.
College staff presented information about the need to upgrade critical systems on campus, including electrical systems, plumbing, lighting, heating, ventilation, fire and earthquake safety as well as repairing or replacing several aging roofs, some of which are more than 30-years old. In addition, some of the stairs, walkways, ramps and parking lots on campus need to be upgraded to comply with current requirements for providing access to disabled students.
The November 7, 2006 general obligation bond measure will be conducted under the guidelines of Proposition 39, which requires approval by 55 percent of the voters within the college district. It also requires accountability measures such as a citizen oversight committee and annual audits. The impact on homeowners will be $9.73 per $100,000 of assessed value (not market value), which will generate the $160 million. On average, each property owner in the college’s capture area will pay an additional $30 each year.
“It is very important for voters to understand,” said Fortine, “that the money raised by this measure will stay in this community, will be carefully monitored and will be used for the specific purposes we’ve described, not for things like faculty and staff salaries or other college operating expenses. This bond and the money generated by it,” stressed Fortine, “is about student access, about the college being able to provide the education and training necessary to meet the needs of students, whether their goals are to move on to higher levels of education, or to learn skills important for the local and regional workforce.” The college plans to post information about the bond measure, project lists and general information on its Website at www.canyons.edu