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Input sought on possible bond proposal

July 29, 2012 (El Cajon) -- A new facilities master plan identifying unmet needs at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges was presented at a community forum Thursday as the East County college district considers placing a bond measure on the November ballot.

Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, hosted the roundtable forum attended by a wide-ranging group of 75 people that included elected officials, school and university administrators, business leaders, public agency representatives and community members.

Grossmont College was built 50 years ago, and still has classrooms and other buildings constructed then that have outlived their usefulness and are badly in need of repairs. Cuyamaca College opened in 1978, and many of its roads, mechanical systems and fixtures are no longer adequate to serve the campus and its students.

Ten years ago, East County voters approved Proposition R, an immensely successful $207 million bond that, coupled with state bond monies, enabled the colleges to construct 13 new and refurbished facilities that have transformed the Grossmont and Cuyamaca campuses. The bond program was held up as a state model with its series of unblemished audits and careful monitoring by its citizens oversight committee.

However, the facilities master plan discussed Thursday showed that many facility improvements are still needed at both campuses to better serve students and prepare them for the workforce, update technology, increase services to veterans, and make the campuses more energy-efficient.

The draft facilities plan was presented by Deborah Shepley of HMC Architects, which prepared the plan with input from the colleges and district. A final plan is set to go before the Governing Board for formal approval in September.

At Grossmont College, the facilities plan recommends replacing the many aging modular buildings placed at the campus more than 30 years ago as temporary classroom sites, as well as providing greatly-needed instructional, lab, and performance spaces.  Deteriorating and inadequate classroom buildings at Cuyamaca College that are now 34 years old would be replaced, along with infrastructure improvements to conserve energy and to reduce operational costs.

An updated technology system to keep pace with digital advances is a key need for the college district. Better computer systems are vital as more students turn to online classes as part of their education, and replacing an antiquated technology system will allow the district to operate more efficiently.

Miles told the audience that the district is at a critical juncture as state funding continues to dwindle and facilities and infrastructure needs become more urgent.

“California’s community colleges are facing the worst fiscal crisis in our history,” she said, adding that the Grossmont-Cuyamaca district alone has been walloped by three years of state funding cuts totaling more than $35 million. If the governor’s tax measure falls short in the November election, the district stands to lose another $5.6 million.

Miles said the district must remain forward-thinking even when the district is facing funding cuts and is forced to turn away students.

“Despite tough times, we still need to plan for the future,” she said. “It can take up to 10 years from conception to completion and that’s why we are taking the long view in our planning and identifying the needs of the East County.”

For the past two years, the district has been working on a comprehensive needs assessment and planning process based on an educational master plan that will guide the district for the next decade and beyond. The facilities master plan grew out of that planning process, along with other plans for technology, human resources and diversity.

To finance the needed facilities, the college district is considering asking East County voters to approve a bond measure.  Bonnie Moss, a consultant with Clifford Moss LLC who is working with the college district on the feasibility of a bond measure, said polls show that East County voters hold the colleges in high regard. Voters indicated strong support for workforce training, veterans’ services, and installing energy-saving measures so that more monies could be directed to classrooms.

“Our research shows that this community understands the district is the engine for workforce training and affordable transfer to universities,” Moss said.

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