Clatsop Community College threw a party for itself Saturday.

The occasion was the dedication of Columbia Hall, the centerpiece of a $27 million remodel of the Jerome Avenue Campus in Astoria.

Greg Hamann, who was president during the efforts to gain funding for the project, returned from his new job as president of Linn-Benton Community College in Albany to preside over the festivities.

"This is truly a building that was built by the people, for the people - and you are the people," he said, looking around a standing-room only meeting room filled with college board members, staff, students and community leaders. "Columbia Hall is more than a building - it's an investment in our future."

He commended the staff from SRG Partnership, architects of Portland, and P&C Construction, of Gresham, for their skill in designing and building Columbia Hall.

Although he was applauded for his leadership, Hamann said much of the praise for raising the money to pay for the project must go to John Berdes, of ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, who taught him the concept of leverage. This is a financial term which involves using small amounts of money already secured to attract more funding. ShoreBank and Wells Fargo Bank worked cooperatively on a creative financing measure called new market tax credits, which added to the college's pool of funds.

Hamann described how the various funding was added, including a public bond which passed in November 2008 in the depths of the recession, appropriations from the state Legislature and donations from foundations and private donors.

He said it finally dawned on him that the college would get the money to complete the campus renovation only when he went to a Salem committee hearing at which North Coast state Reps. Deborah Boone and Brad Witt were testifying to a committee - whose members included the North Coast's state Sen. Betsy Johnson.

Rosemary Baker-Monaghan, a board member who was chairwoman during much of the capital campaign, was reinstated to that role for a day in place of the absent Dirk Rohne, and as a "thank you" for her leadership. She passed on thanks to state Sen. Johnson, and state Reps. Boone and Witt for their "tireless effort in securing significant funding."

She also praised Al Jaques, project manager, who kept the project "on track, on time and on budget," and other community partners, without whom the project would have been less smooth. These included Cindy Howe of Sunset Empire Transportation District

"This is something that takes a whole community to do," said Baker-Monaghan.

Although the college's main campus is in Astoria, Baker-Monaghan noted that all the communities in Clatsop County support it. She praised mayors Willis Van Dusen of Astoria, Gil Gramson of Warrenton, Don Larson of Seaside, Kent Smith of Gearhart and Mike Morgan of Cannon Beach.

Sen. Johnson said the revitalized campus will help put Clatsop County on the map. "It ushers in a new era for the college," she said. "This place is going to stand out regionally as a huge accomplishment."

Aleesha Nedd, president of Clatsop's Associated Student Government, said the investment had been a long time coming. She said morale among students - who had suffered, trying to study while the campus was literally a construction site for many months - has risen with the opening of Columbia Hall.

Rep. Boone said she is taking a Swedish language class at the college, and plans to continue taking advantage of the courses offered.

"I'll be back again and again for these classes. It's important for me to put my money where my mouth is," she said.

And Sen. Johnson jokingly referred to a class in Bobcat driving she took in October, when she knocked the first hole in the soon-to-be demolished Fertig Hall, making room for Columbia Hall.

"I couldn't have imagined a building this gorgeous would emerge from the hole. What a fabulous place, what a view. But most of all, what an opportunity," she said.

Hamann wasn't the only past president attending who was honored. His predecessor, John Wubben, and Phil Bainer, who led the college from 1970 to 1990 were also present. Also attending was Alice Boss, widow of Richard Boss, the college's first president from 1962 to 1966.

The campus project continues. Renovation of the 100-year-old Towler Hall is in process and is targeted for completion this fall.

By ALEESHA NEDD

For The Daily Astorian

During this weekend's dedication ceremony, I sat eagerly in front of a crowd of community members waiting for my turn to speak on behalf of Clatsop Community College students. State Sen. Betsy Johnson, Rep. Deborah Boone, and past President Greg Hamann were sitting to the left of me.

It really struck me then that the dedication of Columbia Hall held so much importance to everyone involved in pushing for its construction. The time between planning on constructing Columbia Hall and actually building it was filled with hard work in lobbying for funds as well as convincing a community of taxpayers that this was worth investing in.

I can honestly say that when it was my turn to speak, I didn't know what to say.

Other than trying to figure out how I'm going to hold peoples' attention for just a few minutes, I drew a blank the night before and the morning of the ceremony. When I was finally in front of the podium, it fell together, and everything seemed so simple.

At some point, I mentioned that the construction of the building had been a long time coming. A few people in the crowd nodded their heads in agreement. As a student who attended class in the older building, CCC was well overdue for a reconstruction project. Having to attend class in a building where for some reason heat was scarce in the winter, but the furnace would be stuck in the "on" position during warm spring and summer days were just a couple on a list of many problems.

The most popular comment about the new building is the fact that it is like a "real college." While this may be true, it is important for those who say this to realize that this was already a real college before the construction of Columbia Hall. The students were "real" and so were the staff and faculty. The quality of education that went on in the older classrooms was just as valid of an education, but in a much different and older environment.

Columbia Hall symbolizes a population of students who are just as valid as the next college or university student. It represents students who are working towards various educational goals and aspirations. It shows that we, as students, are not second best to those going to somewhere that, in some peoples' opinion, is a "real college." We are so "real" that this past year's Clatsop Community College nursing program was ranked as one of the best in the state.

All by itself, the new building promotes the college with its spacious floors, wide picturesque windows, and lounge space that actually welcomes and encourages a student to stay a little longer after class for their own benefit of studying or even a little socializing. Whether students, staff and faculty are aware of it or not, spirits have risen in everyone due to a positive change in environment.

With that being said, to a future student coming in from the outside who is interested in starting their college education out of high school or picking up where they left off in their education years ago, Columbia Hall has made a world of difference in the first impression of Clatsop Community College.

There is finally something, finally a symbol that represents the positive educational programs that such a new and innovative environment didn't show off before.

Aleesha Nedd is president of the Clatsop Community College Associated Student Government

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