$485M college bond on June ballot

Voters from the Central Valley and Mountain Area will, in June, decide the fate of a proposed $485 million bond to expand State Center Community College District.

If it passes, the 30-year bond would earmark $25 million to the Oakhurst Center for eventual construction of a permanent facility, to replace the campus of portable buildings on Crane Valley Road (426) near Highway 41.

In a vote last week, the seven-member SCCCD (State Center) Board of Trustees voted to adopt the bond and move forward in placing it on the June 7 ballot. That paperwork was filed shortly after, per district officials.

Bobby Kahn, trustee for Area 1 that includes Madera County, said current plans indicate a goal of a 40-acre permanent Oakhurst location (minimum of 15 acres), in stark contrast to the current 2.7-acre campus and its seven portable buildings.

“This is critical in the long term,” Kahn said. “If you look 25 to 30 years down the road, you’ll see a growing campus into the future. As the campus grows, so do its facilities, its classes, the number of its students, all kinds of things.”

A potential future location is far from being discovered and finalized, Kahn said, as everything depends on the bond getting approved.

“We can’t do anything until we have the money,” Kahn said. “We can’t say we’re going to build the Oakhurst Center’s permanent building in two, three, four years or more because we don’t know yet. Our total focus right now is just passing the bond.”

If passed, the bond as written would increase property taxes by $18.50 a year per each $100,000 of a home’s value. Thus, a home valued at $200,000 would see its property tax increase by $37.

Brad Ditton, a Realtor and one of the bond’s most vocal supporters, said that price seems like a “reasonable investment” for the Mountain Area.

“If your house is worth $250,000, your contribution is 17 cents a day,” Ditton said (that value later revised to around 13 cents). “That seems pretty good to me. I mean, even if you’re retired, it could mean more restaurants, more opportunities for shopping, and more high-paying jobs. Maybe that’s a small investment for the opportunity for everyone to get a higher education and generally improve this community.”

Some issues for the current Oakhurst campus, Ditton said, include a lack of consistent available parking and classrooms already filled to capacity.

“The existing campus is woefully inadequate,” Ditton said. “It’s way too small. If we have a campus it needs to be an actual campus, not what we have right now.”

Around 500-600 are enrolled at the Oakhurst Center each semester, with little, if any room for additional students.

Along with the future permanent location in Oakhurst, the bond puts at stake several other expansions, such as a new campus in southeast Fresno and improvements across the district.

The bond includes $170 million for Fresno City College - mostly for a parking garage and new buildings for science and math - as well as $60 million for a 120-acre campus in Clovis, and expanded facilities at Madera Community College with plans to make it a fully accredited college.

Kahn said the decision to place the bond on the June 7 ballot was due to a packed November election, which may cause voters to ignore the local issue.

“The more we analyzed the November ballot for initiatives, other bonds, all of that, we thought it would be better to break away and have it on a cleaner, shorter ballot,” Kahn said.

State Center Community College District was founded in 1964 and has campuses in Oakhurst, Madera, Reedley, Fresno, and Clovis.