District and Board Members at an Impasse Over New Math Science and Engineering Building


Photo by: Paulina Rodriguez

Shirley McManus Math Science and Engineering Dean of Instruction along with faculty, and community members gather in support of increased allocations towards a new MSE building at the Board of Trustees meeting Feb.21.

The State Center Community College District board of trustees’ bond workshop on Feb. 21 failed to quell growing concerns about the proposed new Math, Science and Engineering building to be built at Fresno City College using funds from Measure C.

The workshop, held at Clovis Community College’s Herndon Campus, attracted a large crowd of faculty, students and community members, dressed in red to show support for an increase in allocations towards the proposed MSE building.

Current plans are to construct a brand new 40,000 square foot facility across the train tracks, next to Blackstone Avenue, and to remodel the existing 58,000 square foot building, resulting in a split science division.

“I can’t support any of these examples or proposals unless the math and science allocation is increased to address the lack of square footage that has been brought to our attention,”

Trustee Miguel Arias told board and district members at the end of the bond presentation.

A new MSE building was part of Measure C, a $485 million district capital improvement bond, which was approved by voters in June 2016.

In an interview with The Rampage on Feb 23, David Balogh, chair of the Earth, Physical Sciences and Engineering department, said that the current building is only half the size of the space needed for the current student population.

“We feel that we need a building, about a 100,000 square foot building, in order to just meet our current needs,” Balogh said. “We believe that that’s possible.”

Balogh said that if construction started this year, the 100,000 square foot building would cost approximately $92 million.

“We believe that there is $42 million somewhere in this bond project that could be given to the science building without affecting the other campuses,” said Balogh.

“There’s expectations that now we’re going to completely demolish [the] MSE building for a brand new 109,000 square foot facility that will match Modesto,” Vice Chancellor of Operations and Information Systems, Christine Miktarian, said at the bond workshop.  “Those are expectations that we need to pull back in, rein in and say, ‘here’s our budget; here’s what we are building towards, and let’s try to maximize it in every way that we can.’”

Business and community members supporting a larger MSE building told the board during the 30-minute forum that adequate facilities and resources are necessary to carry out the college’s mission of providing a quality, innovative educational program.  

“Right now, we are engaging our students in engineering work in traditional lecture classrooms by moving desks around to make design spaces, and using the hallways of the current science building,” Nell Papavasiliou, FCC Engineering instructor told Board members.

Papavasiliou also said the proposed construction would work against the college’s mission of working for “students success, lifelong learning, and the economic and social development of our students and our region.”

Miktarian’s presentation addressed public comments made by faculty and students last board meeting on Feb. 6 regarding a lack of space, and the negative effects of a split science division.

“There was a lot of discussion, not discussion public comments about not wanting to separate the science programs. That is not consistent with other California community colleges,” Miktarian said.

“We did do a little bit a research between then and now, and there are 23 schools identified — UCs, CSUs, and community colleges — and of those 23 schools, only one of them had one single science building [San Diego Mesa College],” Miktarian said.

Previous 2015-2017 plans were to construct a brand new 70,000 square foot MSE building, estimated to cost between $43 million and $50 million.

“The 40,000 square foot facility is in addition to remodeling their existing 58,000 square foot facility,” Miktarian said. “So that brings us to 98,000 square feet of science space. That’s about a 30 percent increase in what they’ve had previously.”

Balogh disagrees.

“What they don’t see, and what isn’t in the numbers, are the whole sections of students that are turned away because we don’t have room for them,” Balogh said. “What they don’t see is that engineering does not have a dedicated space, surveying students work out of a closet, engineering students run their races of their little machines in the hallways, and that’s inexcusable.”

Miktarian explained the origin of the $50 million allocation towards the new MSE building.

“That [MSE building] was based on funding formulas from the state chancellor’s office for square footage for those types of facilities,” Mikatarian said. ”It worked when they were realistic; things escalate and they adjust with escalation.”

Miktarian proposed cutting the $50 million allocation towards FCC parking by $16 million, and redistributing $11 million towards MSE. The relocation of the SCCCD district office would free up 150 additional parking spaces at FCC, cutting down parking expenses.

“Things need to change and I think that we are looking at all of these projects in a different way than we have ever have before and there are opportunities for other funding that we should explore,” Miktarian said.

Arias criticized the district’s decision to allocate an extra $15 million towards Reedley College’s Center for Performing Arts after realizing it was underfunded, while telling the MSE division to stay within their budget.

“I just feel like they’re not willing to increase the allocation,” Arias said. “If we continue down the path that we’re in, the building will be over capacity the day that we open it. That’s just not acceptable for me.”

Trustee Eric Payne said, “They deserve a high-quality building and we’re going to give it to them.”

The workshop ended with board and district members agreeing on holding another special bond workshop to further discuss bond project issues. No date has been set yet.