With the passage of Measure C in June, 2016, the wish of many - having a permanent college campus in Oakhurst - became a reality.
Measure C, the $485 million bond to improve facilities in the State Center Community College District (SCCCD), included $25 million for a permanent campus in Oakhurst to replace the 18-year-old portable buildings on 2.7 acres at the southeast corner of Crane Valley Road (426) and Golden Oak Loop.
Bobby Kahn is the executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission, and represents Area 1 (Madera County) on the seven-member district board of trustees.
When Measure C passed by nearly 66% of voters throughout the district, Kahn called it “a huge step forward for the district, and a win-win for our students and our communities,” adding “we will be able to make a commitment to select a new campus site and build a permanent facility in Oakhurst, and build out the Madera Center campus and prepare to become a fully accredited community college campus.”
It was about a year and a half ago, that then interim district Chancellor Dr. Bill Stewart, and the district trustees, started the process to get to where we are today.
The SCCCD trustees and staff representing each campus did a good job identifying and prioritizing the needs for each college they oversee - Fresno City College, Reedley Community College, Clovis Community College, the Oakhurst and Madera Centers, and the Career and Technology Center located in Fresno.
The district invited property owners in and around Oakhurst to come forward if they wanted their property to be considered as a site for the new campus.
The district then hired school facility planner Scott Odell, president of Odell Planning & Research of Oakhurst, to complete a Site Selection Study using a number of criteria to evaluate each of the 11 properties that were submitted, and make a site recommendation to district trustees.
The district released Odell’s 24-page study to the public for the first time on Sept. 13 - with the recommended site utilizing the 2.7 acres at the current location, supplemented by 3.99 acres of county property (including the Oakhurst Branch Library), and an additional 3.3 acres from the vacant lot on Highway 41 adjacent to the Chevron station, owned by Chip Pashayan, for a total 10.02 acres.
Then the community was invited to a presentation by Odell at the Oakhurst Community Center eight days later on Sept. 21.
It was then announced that the trustees would meet 12 days later on Oct. 3, to vote on the recommendation.
The timetable, considering what a huge decision this is for the district and the community, gave me a touch of motion sickness it was going so fast. As much as everyone can’t wait to see this campus built, we need to slow this bus down and gather more information.
There are too many unanswered questions, and a lot of unknown details that are needed before the community can be completely comfortable with the site selection, wherever it ends up.
A well-qualified land planner, an experienced Realtor, and businessman spoke at the public meeting, all voicing concerns that the heart of the town, already experiencing heavy traffic on Highway 41 and Road 426, is not the best location for the campus.
The Pashayan property is one of the most valuable commercial zoned pieces of property along Highway 41, that someday will foster retail businesses that would far better serve the community with sales tax, and jobs, said land planner Russ Shaw.
The recommended site would involve negotiating for property with the county and a private property owner. As it stands, we don’t know if the county or Pashayan are even open to discuss trading or selling the land in question. And if they are interested, what will the cost be to obtain those two parcels? Shouldn’t we have those questions answered before voting on that site?
And the trustees should have that information for the other top four sites noted in the study.
How can we expect Board of Trustees President John Leal, Vice President Kahn, and the rest of trustees - Eric Payne, Deborah J. Ikeda, Miguel Arias, Richard M. Caglia, and Ronald H. Nishinaka, to make the best decision for this community if they do not have all the information?
Voting on a site without knowing some basic details - like the price of the land - is putting the cart before the horse.
This is one of the largest developments in the Mountain Area since Yosemite High School was built 40 years ago, and the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino was built 14 years ago.
We’ve been anxiously awaiting this wonderful opportunity that will provide affordable education for high school graduates, veterans, and adults that would prepare them for better paying jobs, or university transfer credits.
Let’s take the time to make the most educated decision. Our community has been waiting many years for this opportunity, we can wait another couple months while the details are gathered and presented at another public meeting in Oakhurst, prior to the vote.