Clatsop Community College library worker and former student Mariah Manners was succinct and to the point.
"When do we start?"
Manners asked the fundamental question after listening to lawmakers and college leaders herald their success in obtaining $7.5 million in state funding for a new campus during a visit to the college by U.S. Rep. David Wu Thursday.
College President Greg Hamann responded that, in some ways, the school already has. College leaders are working with consultants and the city to determine whether John Warren Field, used for high school football games, would sustain a proposed "campus district" that would be shared with the city and Columbia Memorial Hospital.
Clatsop Community College received $7.5 million of a total $38.5 million in state bonding for community college building projects. The state money has to be matched by the schools through local measures and other sources.
The college had requested $25 million, which, once matched, would provide nearly all of the funding needed to build a new campus, Hamann said.
State legislators finished their 2005 session with "some business left undone, some half done and some accomplishments," said Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. She said community colleges fell "in the half-done pile."
Johnson also said she was "not a bit apologetic" for helping to secure $7.5 million for the school, although the support is less than hoped for. She said she requested "maximum flexibility for how that money may be applied," so the college isn't limited to using the funds for building and can use it for site acquisition.
In September, Hamann will make a recommendation to the college board on what steps to take next.
He hopes to match most of the $7.5 million with college resources and would wait to request a local bond measure. He said with the resulting $15 million, the college could develop specific plans, acquire land and begin site development. It would then go back to the Legislature for the remaining support needed, estimated at $17 to $20 million, using partnerships and a local bond levy to match that larger amount, he said.
The college is looking at John Warren Field for its urban "campus district."
While it is "focusing energy" on the field, Hamann said college leaders have not ruled out another location in Warrenton. Plans for the new campus have been discussed in detail since at least 1996.
Hamann called the state bond "a first step for us as a college ... but also a first step for the Legislature," marking the first state bonding for community college construction since 1979.
"This is a great opportunity for us," Hamann said. "It's the largest single capital construction grant this institution has ever received."
Wu, a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said a revitalized community college is crucial to the "future of this community."
"Astoria, and Clatsop County, is undergoing a renaissance," he said. "We're building structures ... but it is the next task to fill these structures with good, high-paying jobs."
Wu said the jobs cannot be built without a new, "vibrant" Clatsop Community College, adding that the potential "synergy" offered by a campus-hospital collaboration should not be overlooked.
Johnson voiced support for the collaboration, calling potential joint program offerings, especially those associated with nursing, a "bright possibility."
"If Clatsop positions itself correctly, it could be an institution of choice rather than an institution of convenience," she said.