Realtor wants to see college moved to larger location

Oakhurst realtor Brad Ditton is seeking support for a new State Center Community College District (SCCCD) Oakhurst campus, in a new, larger location to replace the current campus on civic Circle behind Rite Aid.

Ditton sent an e-mail June 13, to Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, SCCCD Area 1 representative Bobby Kahn, and others, that was in response to a June 12 Fresno Bee opinion piece co-authored by Miguel A. Arias, and John Z. Leal, both representatives on the SCCCD board of trustees.

In the piece, Arias and Leal explain that over the next few months, the district will face some critical decisions, including hiring a chancellor for State Center, and prioritizing district-wide staff building proposals from a potential $500 million facilities bond in 2016.

A new Oakhurst campus is on the district’s building priorities list, but at the same location of the current facility. Although in its preliminary stages, the Oakhurst campus project would remove the 9,660 square-feet of 10 office/classroom/restroom portable buildings, with a new, permanent 15,000 square-foot building.

Ditton feels the current location of the campus is too small, poorly located, and putting a permanent building on the present location would lock the Oakhurst campus into that location for many, many years to come.

“This is 100% unacceptable,” Ditton wrote. “We have been paying into the district for a long, long time and we should demand that we get something better. The Oakhurst/Ahwahnee area has ample infrastructure and land available for a new, larger campus on which to construct a permanent campus. A permanent campus similar to Columbia College is exactly what Oakhurst needs, and Arias and Leal are on a mission to see that this does not happen.”

Ditton said Oakhurst can and will support a new campus.

“Presently, the Oakhurst campus supports more than 700 students, is located on 2.73 acres, in modular buildings, uses neighboring parcels for parking because the campus is too small for current student parking, and is located in the business district of Oakhurst,” Ditton said.

The Arias/Leal opinion piece says that an equitable approach in prioritizing bond investments should consider current enrollment more than projected future growth, and that “we must look at building facilities where people live and that are accessible via public transit.”

The opinion piece also stated that “preliminary recommendations do not guarantee any new facility in south Fresno - SCCCD’s region with the highest level of poverty, an under-skilled workforce, and an under-educated community,” and that must be addressed in the final bond proposal.

Miguel, who works for the Fresno Unified School District, said public polls show a lot of support for community colleges, especially for career technical education.

“Building in outlying areas with no public transportation does not make sense,” Aria said. “We need to build where people already live.”

Ditton feels the two State Center District board members want the areas they represent in ‘south Fresno’ to be the primary beneficiary of the bond funds.

Arias and Leal do not agree with that point of view.

“With about 200 full time students, Oakhurst is the only community proposed to receive a brand new, bigger center in the entire district ... in front of other areas that were promised centers many years ago,” Arias said. “There are 26,000 students at Fresno City College and there is one math-science building proposed for that campus along with a parking structure ... I’ve been asked by Fresno leaders why Oakhurst has become a priority over the poorest and most needy areas of Fresno that have 10 times the student populations.”

“We have to address the needs of all the communities in our district,” Leal said. “It’s ludicrous to think I care only about the area I represent.”

Arias added that he is the only trustee that does not have a facility in his area (5) in and around Fresno’s Tower District.

“My area does not have a transportation system that would make a school facility feasible,’ Arias said.

Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler has always had an interest in education, having served on three school boards (North Fork Elementary, Sierra High School, and Chawankee Unified) for more than 19 years.

“I have been working to expand the junior college in Oakhurst since I was elected to the board of supervisors in 2007,” Wheeler said. “One of my goals is to relocate the campus to a nice piece of property and get rid of the portables that currently house the school. I would like to see a real campus like Columbia Junior College near Sonora.”

Wheeler said Aria and Leal feel the district must look at building facilities where people live that are accessible to public transportation.

“I hope trustees Arias and Leal will work with staff and their fellow board members to assist in developing a bond that is good for the entire district,” Wheeler said.

“If we do not make an impressive stand against Mr. Arias and Mr. Leal now, they will have time to build their case, thereby shutting our area out of a permanent, larger, needed campus for at least the next 20 to 30 years,” Ditton said. “Why not invest $20 or $30 million in our area? We need a new, larger campus ... If we silently sit on the sideline we will be passed over, again. ”

SCCCD trustees first saw the preliminary five-year building recommendations by district staff on April 11, during a board retreat at Bass Lake. The recommendations, based on ‘wish lists’ from all the district campuses, were placed in a three-tier priority, with tier no. 1 being the most important for the entire district.

The new building for Oakhurst on the existing site is on the tier 1 list, along with 12 other projects in Fresno, Clovis, Madera, and Reedley. Many projects on the list do not have specifics at this time, such as square-footage and estimated costs.

Arias said nothing is finalized at this time.

“This process has just begun and it’s a long process,” Arias said. “We want to hear from everyone in the district ... to get the support we will need to pass the facilities bond, we have to get the public support, and the buildings have to make sense. The buildings should not determine programming - programming should determine buildings.”

The SCCCD board of trustees is now working against a July 1 deadline to submit its building priorities to the state.

“I am in total support for the proposed plan for the new building in Oakhurst on the existing site,” said Leal, who is a retired educator. “We hope when the bond comes up, we have the support of the voters in Eastern Madera County to make the building happen for Oakhurst, and for all the other needed projects throughout the State Center Community College District.”

Ditton encourages letters to be sent to the SCCCD office asking that enough funds from the proposed bond be used to relocate the the current campus to a larger piece of land to better serve the future of the community.

Letters can be sent to: Ron Nishinaka, board president, State Center Community College, 1525 E. Weldon Ave, Fresno, 93704; and to Dr. Bill Stewart, interim chancellor, at the same address.

Both Arias and Leal said they encourage people to contact them about the upcoming bond issue and the district’s building priorities: Miguel Arias, (559) 906-1443, - John Leal, (559) 696-6647,