A group of county citizens says Clatsop Community College can be fixed at the present Astoria location at a lower cost to taxpayers than CCC's proposed new campus in Warrenton.
The college is asking voters to approve a $22 million bond measure to fund a new campus in Warrenton, payable from county property taxes for up to 21 years. Administrators say the facilities, some nearly 100 years old and built on a steep Astoria hillside, are aged beyond repair, and bringing them up to code to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements is impractical, if not impossible.
But members of the Clatsop College Information Group have voiced doubts over the need for a brand-new campus and launched an initiative of their own.
"We want a campus for all, but no new tax burden," said Chris Bridgens, a Warrenton resident and member of the group.
The group convened after the landslide defeat of a $24 million college bond request last November that aimed to fund a new campus on John Warren Field in Astoria. But many of the same people surfaced following the failure of a 2002 bond measure that targeted improvements and new buildings at the present campus. They voiced similar concerns back then, opposing the destruction of any old facilities.
This time around, college leaders hope voters will back a bond for a new campus in Warrenton.
Meanwhile, information group members still say updates can be made on Jerome Avenue for a bargain.
The group enlisted a handful of local contractors to estimate the costs of fixing problems in a few areas: updating the plumbing, electrical and heating systems, updating restrooms and alarm systems to improve access for people in wheelchairs, adding an elevator in Towler Hall and giving the building a new roof. The businesses - reportedly JP Plumbing, Clatsop Electric, P&L Johnson, Brill's roofing, Taggart Construction and paving contractor Bob Bridgens - were also asked to think about the need for more parking.
How much would the restoration cost? $7.09 million, including a 100-percent contingency fund, according to the group. That breaks down to about $1.6 million for electrical costs, $622,000 for mechanical, $537,000 for plumbing, $375,000 for an elevator with front and rear entrances, with the rest for a general contractor, pavers and roofers and unplanned expenses.
The college already has $7.5 million for capital construction from the state, which it matched for a total $15 million. The group says its recommendations would even leave money for future growth.
College President Greg Hamann noted a few differences between that plan and CCC's proposal for Warrenton. The information group's plan doesn't include additional parking, and doesn't realign program spaces, add science labs or a student union. It also doesn't feature room for expansion or student housing.
"If you have a goal not to spend any more money than you currently have, you can certainly redesign a project to fit that target," said Hamann. "But their proposed project doesn't come close to meeting the goals we have."
CCC's proposed new campus would sit on 15 acres of undeveloped pastureland on the east side of Dolphin Avenue, east of U.S. Highway 101 in Warrenton, donated by businessman Martin Nygaard. While housing wouldn't be funded by the May bond measure, college leaders have said student apartments might be available at new developments nearby. The campus would include new technology and could accommodate more students, Hamann said.
But information group leaders countered that enrollment hasn't shown much of an increase, and many students take classes at the South County college campus in Seaside or online.
"In all fairness to the college, it's hard to put a figure on how many people are up there," said Bob Erickson, a group member and retired CCC business manager. Enrollment has gone down over several years, he said. "They may come up with something. ... but I don't see it happening."
Group members have also challenged the estimated cost, adding about $15 million to the college's $60 million price tag "for inflation." And they have voiced concerns over who might buy the Jerome Avenue campus. Hamann has confirmed there is an "interested buyer," but declined to identify who that is.
"This was the first community college built in Oregon, and it has historical value," said Astoria architect Tom Potter, part of the group. "We're not anti-college, we just haven't been given enough reason to move it."
A few funding questions remain.
According to the college, the campus replacement project would cost $60 million, funded with $7.5 million from the state, which CCC matched by taking out full faith and credit bonds for a total $15 million; an estimated $5.5 million from selling its 9.2 acres on Jerome Avenue; the anticipated $22 million in bond proceeds; and $17.5 million it expects from the state. That means taxpayers would fund about one-third of the overall project with about 33 cents per $1,000 in property value.
But the state Legislature has not yet issued a budget for higher education and community colleges, and likely won't until after the election May 15, Hamann said. One budget draft has $17.5 million earmarked for the college campus, but another has almost no money for any schools' capital construction plans.
At least 50 percent of registered Clatsop County voters must turn out for the May 15 election, with a majority backing the bond for it to pass.