District Launches Campaign for Bond Measure

Cresencio Rodriguez

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The State Center Community College District is gearing to launch a “robust” informational campaign to get support for a bond measure that would address the most pressing concerns for Fresno City College and the other district campuses.

Bill Stewart, interim chancellor of SCCCD released a draft of proposed projects to be included in the $485 million bond measure that would go in the November 2016 ballot.

For FCC, the proposal includes replacing the Math, Science and Engineering Building with a new, state-of-the-art building as well as a multi-story parking structure which the district hopes will relieve the stresses of parking at the district’s largest college.

It is the chancellor’s proposal to create extensions to FCC by building two new centers — one in West Fresno and the other in Southeast Fresno that is creating some concern.

Wendell Stephenson, president of the FCC academic senate, says he has reviewed the draft proposal and was surprised by the plan to build extensions to FCC.

He said that no one at FCC, including the academic senate, was consulted with regards to the West Fresno project.

“That was never talked about by anyone at FCC that I know of, and it certainly was never talked about at any of the public meetings,” Stephenson added.

Stewart said his office has been working with many district and college committees to develop a priority list and will eventually meet with the board to discuss the proposed projects for every college — Fresno City College, Reedley College, Clovis Community College and the various centers.

“We have a hazardous situation there,” Stewart said about the Math Science and Engineering Building at FCC. “It doesn’t meet the modern needs for a science building, for a community college or a college campus.”

Stewart said that the draft proposal serves as a “guiding light” for the district and can change, but that the possibilities of that happening are slim. A final proposal is slated for the summer of 2016, before the November 2016 voting season.

If everything goes accordingly, the proposed projects will be completed within a decade, during which time the district’s 2012-2025 Master Plan will have to be renewed.

Miguel Arias, SCCCD trustee, said he supports the proposal as long as it advances the plan to build a center in West Fresno and in Southeast.

“West Fresno has 100,000 people and the needs are much greater in West Fresno,” Arias said. “So we have to build something comparable in both parts of our district.”

Stewart said that both centers will serve as extensions of FCC and that Annendale, the current center in Southeast Fresno will eventually be moved to the new southeast center site. Different educational services will be made available at the West Fresno center, Stewart said.

The proposed $60 million center in Southeast Fresno would use up an additional $30 million that is still available from the 2002 bond.

Stewart added that the district may end up selling the plot of land where the current southeast center stands, after the services are moved to a new center.

The idea for the West Fresno center, said Stewart, came to the board when they realized that the educational offerings needed to be more accessible and that the center is a chance to provide educational services that would not fit in the Southeast center.

The West Fresno center would cost $10 million, according to the district’s proposal. Arias said he wants to see the district move forward with those plans in an equitable way that puts students first.

Arias also said the district’s plan to continue efforts to build a center in Southeast Fresno is good, but he wants the site designated within the city limits of Fresno, where police and fire services would be available to students, and water and sewer services are placed.

“We want to make sure that we build a campus with the basics in place,” Arias said.

Still, Stephenson argues that having the idea of a new facility in West Fresno simply “dropped” on the college, creates much confusion. He says there are a lot of questions that the college needs answered if the district plans to run an extended FCC facility in West Fresno.

“It saps morale, because how are you going to expect us to do something that you did not consult us on?” Stephenson said.

Stephenson says that the only person he can think of that would have some knowledge of such decision being made is former president, Tony Cantu, who died late last spring.

“That is a serious problem,” Stephenson said. “That really stands out.”

He says that he has asked Interim President, Cynthia Azari, if she knew about the new centers, specifically the West Fresno center; he said her answer was “no”.

But Azari says she has only been here for four months and has not had a good chance to sit and discuss the projects.

“We haven’t gotten to those discussions,” Azari said. “They may have occurred earlier, but I’ve been here four months so I’m focusing on everything else. I really haven’t spent too much time on this.”

Stephenson also says that this only creates uncertainty for both the district and the college. He says that the amount allocated for the West Fresno project will not be enough to run the facility if one factors in hiring people to run it after it has been constructed.

Stewart disagrees and, despite Stephenson’s concerns, said the district will still go ahead and run the informational campaign. He says the district is currently in the planning phase but expects to launch the campaign soon.

“It will be a very robust informational campaign,” Stewart said. “Eventually, there will be a consultant hired to help with the bond campaign itself.”

He added that the district has already raised the funds — all from private sources — to run the informational campaign. Approximately 300 individuals gave funds; Stewart personally contributed $2,500. “They are people who really believe in the district and what we are doing and want these facilities and want to serve the people,” he said.

The chancellor said that according to the state rules, any planning or campaigning cannot be done during district business hours, nor can the district use its own resources. All resources and campaign activities must be done outside district grounds and privately funded.

Azari said there are currently plans to put together steering committees that would aide work to get support from voters; she said working with the student government is an option to create awareness about this ballot measure.

Cody Sedano, a student representative who sits on SCCCD board of trustees, said the Associated Student Government likes what the district’s priorities and, despite the lack of student participation at the college, will work to spread awareness.

Sedano said, “A lot of FCC students will probably be interested in this.”