Santa Rosa Junior College may explore new bond issue
Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
Santa Rosa Junior College officials are preparing to test voters' appetites for a general obligation bond to address what they say are pressing infrastructure issues on both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses.
The move comes nearly 12 years after voters approved the $251 million Measure A, which paid for a four-story library/media center, new parking facilities, renovation of existing buildings and the expansion of the Petaluma campus.
The two-story, $20-million B. Robert Burdo Culinary Arts Center was the last major project funded through Measure A. It opened two years ago.
Still, officials say that needs remain — especially on the Santa Rosa campus that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2018.
“We have infrastructure issues,” President Frank Chong said. “We haven't been addressing aging labs and the whole notion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) wasn't discussed 12 years ago.”
The proposal, and plans to conduct a voter survey to gauge support and interest for a bond measure, is expected to be discussed at the board's biannual retreat Thursday.
Board President Jeff Kunde declined to discuss the proposal, saying the board is “in the process of looking at our options” but that Chong is the spokesman on the issue.
“So we don't get mixed messages,” Kunde said.
The school has spent $267 million on capital projects since Measure A passed, thanks in part to interest earnings and refinancing, said Doug Roberts, vice president of business services.
About $9 million remains — largely earmarked for instructional equipment, he said.
There is $175 million in principal remaining to be paid off from Measure A, according to county tax officials. The current debt paid by property owners is $18.80 on every $100,000 in assessed value.
At the state-regulated $46 per credit, the cost to attend SRJC and other California community colleges is the lowest in the nation. Local officials cannot adjust the per-unit fee for students.
It is not the first time in recent years that school officials have floated the idea of turning to voters for funds.
Two years ago discussions of a parcel tax were shelved after trustees raised concern about the pace of discussions.
Months later, voter support of Proposition 30 in 2012 stabilized school financing for many community colleges across California.
“Prop. 30, thank god, passed,” Chong said. “Operating costs (are) not an an issue now.”
Computers and software, technology upgrades in some career technical programs, as well as facility upgrades to science buildings and labs are still pressing issues, officials said.
The parameters and timing of a voter poll have not been determined, officials said.
“When you are doing polling, you need to know what projects are the voters willing to support. What do they feel is important?” Roberts said.
School officials, working with a homemade business management and student information computer system created in 1982, said the Santa Rosa campus is well behind in upgrading its computers, hardware and software.
“We are one of three schools in the state that have homegrown systems,” said Scott Conrad, director of Information Technology for the school. “I can't just hire a contractor to come in and help us, it doesn't do any good.”
The school is already tapping remaining Measure A funds to pay for technology. Spending was about $3 million a year on computers and software until four years ago when it was cut to $1 million under budget pressure, Conrad said.
“That just wasn't enough to maintain what we had. We upped it to $1.25 million just this last year. We were getting too far behind,” he said.
Space in science labs does not meet demand, Roberts said.
“It's not great to have a chemistry class where you can lecture to 30 people when the lab can only handle 20 or 22,” he said. “It's kind of a bottleneck in a way. It's not efficient.”
Despite the multi-million dollar investment in both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses over the past decade, the campuses continue to host tens of thousands of students each semester and major renovation needs remain, Chong said.
“We see ourselves as a resource to the community,” he said. “That also increases wear and tear.”
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.
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