News Column

Cuesta College board eyes $343 million bond measure to fund repairs

July 4, 2014

By AnnMarie Cornejo, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

July 04--The visible corrosion on the outside of a 12,000-volt electrical distribution station that powers a large portion of Cuesta College'sSan Luis Obispo campus hints of its age.

But the real trouble is unseen. At any time a transformer on the 30-year-old station could blow, leaving much of the campus without power.

In fact, periodic power outages have led to multiple days of cancelled classes in past years.

"This is now in critical status," said Terry Reece, director of facility services, planning and capital projects. "I can't guarantee that it will work tomorrow."

While this is an immediate problem facing the community college, its two campuses in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles also are overdue for a magnitude of extensive repairs and upgrades.

The Cuesta College Board of Trustees will discuss Wednesday if it will put a bond for up to $343 million on the Nov. 4 ballot to pay for maintenance and facilities needs on both campuses.

Trustees have asked to review multiple bond measure options, which range from $84 million to $343 million. The recommended bond measure would be for $286 million.

A $286 million bond would cost homeowners $21 per $100,000 of assessed value. It would mostly address immediate repairs, meet a state mandate to make modular classrooms safer, upgrade technology, provide enough money to build a job and career training facility in the North County and help eliminate or refinance millions of dollars of debt.

A $343 million bond would cost homeowners about $25 per $100,000 of assessed value annually. It would address the same issues and also allow for future expansion. President Gil Stork said that is the maximum amount the college could seek.

Fifty-five percent of voters are needed to pass a general obligation bond.

"The focus is on protecting the public investment," Stork said. "If we don't do something really quickly we will be allowing (the college) to deteriorate to a place where it is unusable."

Many of the buildings on the main campus in San Luis Obispo -- now more than 40 years old -- are in disrepair. Leaking roofs, failing air conditioning and heating units, cracked asphalt and failing plumbing is an everyday maintenance battle.

The pool also needs repairs to continue to meet regulatory requirements. Without being fixed, it could be closed within the next several years.

The college needs an estimated $140 million to make the repairs needed at both the San Luis Obispo and the North County campus.

And that is not the end of its woes.

State law requires modular buildings of more than 2,000 square feet that house students and staff to be brought up to current California architectural standards. That affects 18 buildings.

To simply bring the buildings up to modern standards would cost up to $5 million. It wouldn't be a wise investment because of their age, said Stork.

Instead, the college wants to replace those modular buildings with permanent structures at a cost of $84 million. The plan calls for constructing two buildings on each campus: a center building and an instructional building in San Luis Obispo and a center building and an early childhood education center in the North County.

A voter survey commissioned by the college in late 2013 found that 69 percent of people would support a bond measure, with equal support for a large bond versus a smaller one.

The college has not sought a bond since 2006 when voters rejected a $310 million bond measure. The last time it raised money through a bond issue was 1974.

Reece, who has worked at Cuesta College for 20 years, said the same facility and maintenance needs exist on campus today as they did in 2006 but things are now in greater disrepair and more expensive to fix.

He said in 2006 the estimated cost for repairs was about $80 million. Those same repairs will now cost about $140 million.

Reece said large, unplanned repairs are continually encroaching on the general fund -- something that he would like to see end.

Not too long ago an air conditioning unit failed on the nursing building. Upon further inspection, it was determined that more than half a dozen other units were doomed, he said.

"That was a $45,000 weekend that came out of general fund money," said Reece. "We are only asking for what we need and we are prepared and have plans in place to take action."

Following Wednesday's discussion, the Board of Trustees will meet again on July 29. If the trustees don't make a decision then on which measure to put on the ballot, they will decide on Aug. 6. The bond measure must be filed with the County Clerk Recorder by Aug. 8.

*--Breakdown of what a $286 million bond would be used for:

$140 million for repairs and upgrades

$85 million for four structures to replace modular buildings at both campuses

$26 million for technology upgrades

$20 million for debt retirement for previous construction

$15 million for a new trades and technology building

Breakdown of a $343 million bond:

All of the above, plus construction of a simulation lab for the nurse training program, a lab for the paramedics program, land acquisition and construction of a permanent South County campus.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.


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Source: Tribune (San Luis Obispo, CA)

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