It looks like construction of a brand new college center in Santa Paula will maintain a holding pattern until bigger, better funding sources for the new hub can be secured. But not everyone’s satisfied with that likely decision — particularly officials in Santa Paula who believe citizens with few educational options will lose out if the college isn’t built.
Handel Evans, a consultant for the Measure S Bond Program, an armof the Ventura County Community College District, said Tuesday that $24.7 million set aside for construction of a new Santa Clara Valley Advanced Technology Education Center following the passage of Measure S will instead be spent on existing campuses. He stressed that the decision to not begin construction in Santa Paula is a delay — not a cancellation.
“What we’re talking about is a delay and paying for the project with funds other than bond funds,” Evans said. “We’re spending our money on our home campuses before we increase the size of our district.”
Ventura County voters passed Measure S in 2002, when members of the college’s District Board of Trustees were authorized to issue bonds totaling $356.3 million for repairs and construction of facilities on the three community college campuses, in Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo, and for potential new construction.
Santa Paula City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said Tuesday that what he calls the “defunding” of the project is a violation of voter expectations. “There are repercussions on several levels,” said Bobkiewicz. “They went to the voters of Ventura County and got the bond passed. When they sold the bond, that [construction of a campus in Santa Paula] was part of the deal.”
Bobkiewicz said issues concerning where to put the new campus were overcome over the last few years as the city stepped up to help the college district find viable property. Eventually, the Lemoneira Company, a grower, packer and marketer of agricultural products, offered to donate land because the $24.7 million earmarked for the project wasn’t enough to purchase land and fund construction.
“The issue of funding for the new facility in Santa Paula has been debated for sometime,” Bobkiewicz said, “and the City of Santa Paula, along with the Santa Paula Union High School District, Santa Paula Elementary School District and the Limoneira Company have done everything the College District has asked to secure property for a facility that the voters of Santa Paula and throughout the county approved …”
Bobkiewicz went on to say that the college district has been “non-comittal” about the project over the past six to nine months. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s a broken promise,” he said. “They went to the community to improve the services they’re providing in the Santa Clara Valley.”
Harold Edwards, CEO of the Limoneira Co., said the company is prepared to donate 40 acres of land for joint public uses. According to Edwards, the company formed a partnership with the city almost two years ago to explore the master planning of 500 acres in East Santa Paula. “We certainly understand the financial challenges the community college faces,” Edwards said. “What the college decides to do, one way or another, we’ll support. I also understand the desires of the city manager and the city wanting the college, especially being driven by the bond passed … we stand committed to provide the land on which the community college would be built.”
Evans said that, when the board of trustees meets on April 18, it is highly likely that any pending action in Santa Paula will be delayed — but that significant academic planning needed to build the new campus will also be discussed. While he takes the donation of the Limoneira property into consideration, Evans said the Limoneira project must be approved before the land can be considered viable property. “We can’t go ahead with it because we have nowhere to put it,” he said.
Full-time enrollment at the city’s existing campus will have to be boosted in order to secure state funding to bankroll the new campus, said Evans, who added that the district has no legal obligation to build the new campus and that such changes often occur after the passage of bonds. Because construction costs increased by about 30 percent in the years since the bond was passed, the new construction, Evans said, would be an impossible financial burden.
“The real people who will lose are the young men and women who, if they don’t have a robust facility, may not go to college anywhere,” Bobkiewicz said, “and that’s a problem we already struggle with here.”