Warrenton and Gearhart leaders considered extensive details of the Clatsop Community College siting process Tuesday night - and afterward came on board with the consensus that John Warren Field is a solid choice.
In both communities, CCC President Greg Hamann asked city leaders to embrace the Astoria site on the clear understanding that if it doesn't look feasible, another site - possibly in Warrenton - would be given serious consideration.
The Warrenton City Commission supports the college's plan to create a new campus, Mayor Gil Gramson reiterated during a lengthy discussion of the topic Tuesday.
Commissioner Mark Kujala agreed. He said he expects the citizens of Warrenton to support the college's proposal for a new campus and said the debate on location is unfortunate. He said the Commission just wants its Dolphin Road site to be considered an acceptable alternative if a fatal flaw is found at John Warren Field.
Warrenton City Manager Ed Madere received a letter from Hamann last week in response to a resolution the City Commission passed last month which asked the college's campus design committee to expand a feasibility study of John Warren Field to include a 15-acre parcel on the east side of U.S. Highway 101 at Dolphin Road in Warrenton, which businessman Martin Nygaard has offered to donate.
In his letter, Hamann thanked the city and Nygaard for the generous offer, but says the John Warren site is a better match with the campus site criteria the board adopted in 2004. He went on to say "the Dolphin Road side should be given strong consideration as an alternate, should we find the John Warren Field site to be unfeasible."
At Gearhart, Hamann told the City Council that many sites were considered, and the six-acre John Warren site best fit the board's criteria of being convenient for commuters, close to educational partners in order to share resources, close to the county's major economic centers, visible, accessible and spacious enough for buildings, green space, recreation space, vehicular and pedestrian use.
The new campus is estimated to cost up to $60 million. The college is planning to ask voters to fund a bond of approximately $20 million in November, although the bond will not be site-specific. The college has secured $15 million with state help, and plans to ask the state to match the voter bond.
The football field site, which would become home to a four- or five-story building with 500 parking spaces, is part of Astoria's urban renewal district, and that means there are other resources available to help develop it, he said. It would allow for partnerships with the library, pool, theater, seafood center, hospital and other agencies and would attract leverage opportunities with other funding entities.
At Warrenton, Mayor Gramson said the City Commission just wants CCC to keep its options open.
"We came out in public and stated that we support the campus relocation. And we got a very nice letter back from the president of the college," Gramson said. "All we were saying is this (Dolphin Road site) is a good site. He agrees with us, but they're going ahead with the Warren Field.
"If it doesn't work out, then this is a good alternative. I believe that is a good approach, a pro-active approach, and that's the position the city is taking. He was thinking we were asking for a comparison of the two. And all we're saying is 'no, we're not asking to compare the sites, but look at this in the future if it becomes necessary,'" Gramson said.
Madere said the college has indicated the Warrenton site doesn't fit the criteria that have been established. He said it's too bad some citizens have gotten angry about that and added that it would be unfortunate if the countywide discussion became about where, rather than whether, to relocate the campus.
Commissioner Dick Hellberg disagreed sharply. "They keep talking about criteria. That's just a bunch of baloney," Hellberg said. He said Warrenton got "a bad deal" because the college "slanted the criteria to fit John Warren Field."
"This whole thing is just not comprehensible to me and I think most of the county feels the same way," Hellberg said, adding the public "has been sold a bill of goods."
However, at the Gearhart City Council meeting, members thanked Hamann and CCC board members for explaining the process, although they did ask why they had not been approached before.
College board member Frank Satterwhite explained the board has focused on developing a site, and then asking the community to support it. When a community poll was taken on sites several years ago, no clear consensus was reached, he said.
Hamann said John Warren Field's real market value is about $2 million. He said the college's opportunity to obtain money from the state will not last.
He compared the situation to the U.S. Highway 101 widening debate in Seaside, where the project fell through and the money went away.
Councilor Ed Tice was concerned the site would not be large enough. He supports a new college, but said Astoria has traffic congestion problems and the college would be difficult to get to. "It comes up for a bond and the site is the problem, the bond might not make it," he said.
Hamann said the college may be able to purchase additional land around the field. Satterwhite said the field is a sufficient size for the college for 20 years.
Councilors said they were concerned with how accessible the college would be to south county residents. "I think there's people in our area of the county who feel somewhat alienated," Mayor Kent Smith said.
If feasibility studies show the site is not acceptable, the board will choose another site, Hamann said. "Will you give us the time to answer those questions, and if we come to the same conclusion, trust that we will move away from that site?" he requested.
Hamann said sites on Clatsop Plains between Warrenton and Gearhart have not been selected because state regulations require that colleges be built within cities or urban-growth boundaries. He said support at the state level is for sites in developed areas, not open areas like the Warrenton's Dolphin Road site.
He said if the John Warren site is not feasible, he believes the state will support a site in an open area. Satterwhite added that would be the case only if the first site had been seriously evaluated.
"I would just urge you to think about the quality of the program," said board member Doug Grant.