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Colleges Getting a Makeover

A bond paves the way for the Ventura County campus projects, while a state budget crunch hurts students.

August 30, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Their fees have been raised and their classes cut, thanks to the state budget crisis. So Ventura County community college students may be wondering about all the hammering and sawing going on these days.

Despite cutbacks in state funding for the classroom, construction is moving forward on new libraries at Moorpark and Ventura colleges. And plans are proceeding for a new theater on the Oxnard campus. The projects are part of a $356-million makeover made possible by a voter-approved bond measure last year.

"A lot of students don't understand that the construction funds come from a different pot of money," David Birchman, an English teacher at Moorpark College, said as he strolled past construction of the new three-story library and computer lab. "The voters made a good choice. They looked at what was going to happen in the future with the growth in the student population."

Projects that will be paid for, at least in part, with the bond money include the $18-million learning resource center at Moorpark College, a similar $26-million facility at Ventura College and a recently opened $6-million community and student center at Oxnard College.

Also at Oxnard College, a 300- to 400-seat performance theater and a public-access television studio are planned, with groundbreaking possible later this year. The project is expected to cost as much as $35 million.

The building projects are part of dozens planned at the three college campuses over the next five years. The work is being done in phases, with bonds issued incrementally to pay for specific work.

"I'm quite delighted with the way it's going," said Handel Evans, former president of Cal State Channel Islands, who was hired as a consultant to oversee the construction program. "We've been incredibly careful to make sure as we go through these programs that we get the maximum bang for the buck."

Ventura College officials said the renovations and improvements underway at their 12,000-student campus have been in the planning stages for more than a decade. The learning center is the jewel of the school's building program.

Once completed, they said, it will include a television studio, classrooms, computer lab and faculty offices, all housed in a three-story building with a top-floor terrace with ocean views.

"This project will totally transform this campus," said Larry Manson, an English and history instructor at the college.

Meanwhile, a new baseball scoreboard erected this week is the first of $8.5 million in improvements for the college's athletic facilities.

Other components include new automated bleachers in the gymnasium, a face-lift for the aquatics center and construction of an all-weather track. The projects are expected to be completed next year.

Moorpark College officials threw a party earlier this month to mark the school's first completed bond project -- a $2.2-million parking expansion that will accommodate nearly 600 additional vehicles. Energy-efficient light fixtures were also added to parking lots along with emergency telephones.

The new parking and the 56,000-square-foot learning center are part of a long-term master plan to prepare the college, the largest with a student population of nearly 14,000, for a projected 25% enrollment increase over the next 10 years, said Al Nordquist, vice president of college services.

But all the construction has left some people like Ventura College student Marcus Carballo scratching their heads, especially since enrollment at all three colleges is down this semester.

The 20-year-old Marine reservist said he wasn't able to get a criminal justice class he wanted because it was dropped from the schedule.

"I'm confused," Carballo said. "Everything has gone up -- parking, books. If you're going to create new buildings, make sure you have enough students to fill them."

Fellow student and military reservist Kevin Bruce said what the campus really needed were more teachers and classes. Bruce, 20, said many of the buildings would not be completed until after he has transferred to a four-year university.

"We're paying for the buildings," he said, "but we're not going to be able to use them."

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