Bakersfield College students now have an idea of what their new Veterans Resource Center will look like.
On Wednesday, the community college unveiled art designs for the new center, which is expected to be a one-stop-shop where veterans can get counseling services, educational advice and tutoring. It is also set to include a study area and computer lab.
The unveiling was also held to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Measure J's passage. The $502 million bond is paying the $7 million tab for the center. It is the first project for which the college is using Measure J money.
“Your support will ensure that Bakersfield College will be able to provide quality facilities for our local communities for decades to come,” said Kern Community College District Chancellor Tom Burke. “I believe quality facilities are a huge part in providing a learning environment that leads to student success. Veterans, this resource center is our tribute and resource to you and those that follow. You will always find support at the Kern Community College District for meeting your life goals and aspirations.”
The new center will be a huge upgrade from the current one, which guest speakers at the event agreed was too small. Kern Community College District board president Kay Meek said when she visited the college one time a few years ago and saw the center, she was surprised by its modest size.
“They’re in these cramped quarters, it’s hot, there’s a lot of [veterans], which was wonderful because they had a place to go, but I thought to myself ‘man, this is just not right,’ ” she said.
The new center comes at a time when the college is seeing a rise in the number of veteran students. College President Sonya Christian said the college currently has 684 veteran students and expects to see more next year.
One such veteran, Lee Caldwell, spoke at Wednesday’s event. Caldwell is a former U.S. Army sergeant who served in the military for 16 years before retiring in 2014.
“The new VRC will be a place where we can relax, talk, reminisce about old times, battle stories and whatnot,” he said. “This new facility will be an asset for Kern County and surrounding areas for the veterans to fulfill their educational goals and return to the community workforce.”
Fellow veteran and former Bakersfield College student Wesley Barrientos attended the unveiling of the new center. Barrientos served during the Iraq War in three deployments between 2003 to 2007 as an Army infantryman.
Barrientos first came to the college around 2013, and he said veterans' services at the college were slim.
“This place has just transformed over time,” he said. “When I first came here, we didn’t have a resource center. We had a veterans' lounge and a veterans' club. We didn’t have counselors or advisors like the students do now.”
Barrientos said he believes this new center will be a great asset for students.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
College trustee and former Congressman Bill Thomas said he hopes the new center will show veterans BC's appreciation for their military service.
“None of us can empathize with veterans,” he said. “We can understand. We can sympathize. But only people who have gone through it can know it and appreciate it. You deserve [this center]. You need it. We want it, and we’re going to get it.”
The first phase of the project will begin soon and is expected to take a year. The second phase of the project is expected to be completed by spring 2020.
The unveiling was part of a whole week of veteran-related activities in honor of Veterans Day. Activities wrap up Thursday with the college’s Vets Fest, which will include food, live music, guest speakers and more. Vets Fest will be held on the campus from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.