Scott Odell’s recommendation on where the Oakhurst Community College should be built received mixed reactions last week from an audience of 30 interested community members.
Odell’s recommended site, after considering a number of issues, is at the present 2.73 acres on the southeast corner of Crane Valley Road (426) and Golden Oak Loop. The plan includes acquiring an additional 2.99 acres from Madera County (where the library sits), and the 3.3-acre vacant lot adjacent to the Chevron station owned by Chip Pashayan, giving the college a total of 10.02 acres.
Site selection criteria from Odell’s 32-page study, for the 10 properties that were initially submitted for consideration included terrain, visible location, land zoning, convenient access, proximity to utilities, and aesthetics.
“The atmosphere of the campus is important,” real estate consultant and land planner Russ Shaw commented. “Yosemite High School is away from town, yet is a beautiful campus, providing a great atmosphere for the students. The college should not be placed in the middle of town surrounded by commercial buildings.”
In a recent letter to Odell, Shaw said it was his opinion that converting a piece of prime ‘commercial’ property in the heart of Oakhurst to an ‘institutional’ use “does not align with the stated highest and best use concepts.”
Shaw, who submitted one of the proposals (ranked No. 4 on the list), made clear that his position, in no way, is intended to be disparaging with respect to the goal of providing the community of Oakhurst with a new college campus.
“On the contrary, I am enthusiastic supporter of such visionary efforts as well as a strong believer in enabling higher education to become more readily available for our mountain students,” Shaw wrote.
A couple people, including Brad Ditton, voiced their concern that the college traffic would add to what are already very busy roadways, referring to Road 426 and Highway 41.
Odell said the Pashayan property is zoned commercial, and there would be a lot less traffic from the college compared to a fast food restaurant that could be built there.
Long time community member and businessman George Sitts remarked that in his opinion, the community of Oakhurst is making efforts to build an art community and that site right on Highway 41 does not fit the vision of an art-centric community.
“The current site recommendation really does not fit with what the community wants,” Sitts said.
He asked for a show of hands from those in attendance that would prefer another location for the college away from Highway 41. Seven people raised their hands, and when asked how many supported the recommended location, 10 hands went up.
Dr. Frank Yancey, a biology instructor who has been at the college for 17 years, feels the recommendation is “spot on,” and pointed out what an incredible natural resource the Fresno River would be to students.
“The river and its adjacent habitats provide priceless teaching opportunities that any college would feel extremely fortunate to have on campus,” Yancey stated after the meeting. “It is an irreplaceable outdoor laboratory that is utilized for a variety of outdoor science activities and exercises, including riparian ecology, bird diversity, mammal diversity, hydrology, and water quality studies. These outdoor labs are, by far, the most popular with our students.”
Dr. Sandra Caldwell, president of Reedley College which includes the Oakhurst and Madera Community College Centers, said she was very pleased with the input that was received from the community at the meeting.
Caldwell said the trustees may vote on the recommendation at their Oct. 3 meeting, or narrow the list down to the top two or three locations. The meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Madera Community College Center, 30277 Ave. 12.
“We have options, but the exciting thing is we are moving forward,” Caldwell said.
Odell said the meeting was great, receiving valuable feedback from all sides.
Also attending the meeting were Vice Chancellor’s Brian Speece and Christine Miktarian, and Oakhurst Community College Center Director, Dr. Darin Soukup.
A strategic planning meeting was held in Oakhurst in February, and a site selection community forum in March, when a timeline of the process was provided.
After the meeting Sitts said he was concerned with how fast the selection process was going.
“The choice came as a surprise to me, having been released so close to the public meeting.” Sitts said. “Had it not been for an article in the Sierra Star last week, this decision would not have been known until it had been finalized. Now there is only one more chance to give input, and that’s in Madera on Oct. 3 when district trustees are expected to vote on the location.”
NOTE: The complete study can be seen at scccd.edu.
Three additional sites were considered
The No. 2 recommendation is a combination of two proposals submitted by Ron Montgomery and Nick Schneider, providing 21 acres on the east side of Highway 41 near Hartwell Road.
The No. 3 recommendation is on 6 acres between the back of the Sierra Star building (49165 Crane Valley Road - 426) and Sierra Telephone’s Parkway Building.
Odell’s study states the No. 2 and No. 3 sites are roughly equal, with different benefits and drawbacks. Both are highly visible with adjacent or nearby utilities and transit. Both have the potential for good street access once the planned Mid-Town Connector is complete, and a signal is installed at Road 426 and Sierra Way. Recommendation No. 2 has terrain challenges and is further from the center of town.
Site No. 3 has flat terrain, and is closer to the center of town, but at only six acres, the site is smaller than ideal. However, it could work depending on design of the campus, and with the potential for acquiring an adjacent one-acre parcel.
Recommendation No. 4 is for a 20.7-acre site on the west side of Westlake Drive, north of Highway 41.