Bakersfield College's southwest center could be forced to temporarily close in January 2020, leaving several thousand students shut out of classes, if immediate action isn't taken to approve a new location, college officials said.
The lease on the current location at River Run Boulevard near Stockdale Highway and Buena Vista Road is ending next year, and the time needed to approve a new location for the center without suspending classes is running out, according to BC Vice President of Instruction Liz Rozell. Rozell and other administrators from BC and the Kern Community College District have identified a space that will be part of a new development built next to Cal State Bakersfield, but it requires quick action by the KCCD Board of Trustees.
“The result of waiting a few months is asking Bakersfield College to shut down BC SouthWest for at least one semester and turn away more than 2,000 students,” Vice President of Instruction Liz Rozell told the board during an October meeting. “Delays in approving this proposal will cost the students in timely completion, cost the college in reputation, cost the community in educational resources and cost the district financially.”
However, the board isn't willing to sign on the dotted line just yet.
Trustee Kyle Carter said he didn’t think trustees have had enough time to consider the proposal and make sure it’s the best option for the southwest center, as the site was proposed just prior to its Sept. 13 meeting.
“They never gave the board the opportunity to vet this out,” he said. “They tried to cram this down our throats and expected us to rubber-stamp it. We’re not a rubber-stamp board.”
The current location for what the college calls BC SouthWest has been subleased from Fresno Pacific University since 2015, with the most recent lease period running from Aug. 1, 2017 to March 31, 2019. Castle & Cooke, which oversees the lease, is willing to extend BC's lease through December of next year, as long as a new location for the southwest campus is secured.
A new lease agreement involving a new 60,000-square-foot center to be located on the southwest corner of the Cal State Bakersfield campus was going to be presented to the KCCD board for discussion and approval at its Sept. 13 meeting.
However, the board agreed in a 5-2 vote to refer the matter to the Finance and Audit Committee for additional review, with trustees Bill Thomas and Romeo Agbalog being the only no votes.
The proposed new site is set to be discussed by the Finance and Audit Committee during its meeting on Nov. 14.
"We will review this issue and how to proceed and make a recommendation back to the board," said Trustee John Corkins, chair of the committee and the trustee who initially motioned for bringing the issue to the committee.
Corkins declined to provide further comment.
Now, the college is concerned that if action isn’t taken this month by the board, there won’t be enough time for the center to be built and for the college to move in for the start of the spring semester on Jan. 18, 2020.
Even if the committee recommends the site at the meeting, the soonest regular meeting the board could approve it would be on December 13, according to BC officials.
Gregory D. Bynum & Associates Inc., which would oversee the new lease, said a decision would need to be made by Dec. 1 to make the January 2020 deadline.
"If they make a decision quickly enough, we will be able to deliver the space in early January 2020," he said.
Steven Holmes — president of the district's Academic Senate, a group that represents faculty in school government matters — said the board could hold a special meeting this month to approve the proposal.
“The closer we get to the end of the year, the less likely we will have a center in time," he said. "We need to get this thing going.”
Weighing the options
Trustee Kyle Carter said the current proposal could turn out to be the best option, but he wanted the college to give the board more time to weigh the options before approving anything.
“I don’t think we need to make any quick decisions,” he said. “We need to sit down as a board and really think this over. My only job as a trustee is to represent the taxpayers and make sure this a good deal for the taxpayers and the school.”
According to the college, revenue will begin to surpass the cost of the new BC SouthWest around five years into the new lease, with total profit over the course of the lease being more than $11 million.
Holmes said the college worked with the KCCD Chancellor Thomas Burke on several potential sites for a new center. They agreed the current proposal was best, as it would meet parking needs for the growing numbers of students enrolling in classes at the southwest center and would be built and ready to hold classes in spring 2020.
Holmes said many BC faculty and staff support the location.
“The faculty thinks it’s a good deal due to its location. There are not very many colleges that are able to build a center next to one of the (universities) it feeds into,” he said. “This is a new way in which a community college and university can bridge themselves.”
Looking back, Holmes agreed that the college or district should have held a work study when the proposal was first introduced to the board so that the members had more time to consider it.
“I think the homework was completed by Bakersfield College and the chancellor. They brought what they felt was their best proposal,” he said. “I think we were expecting that the proposal was going to be approved.”
In an effort to help speed things along, the Academic Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that requests trustees to call for a special session to conduct a work study “without delay” on the issue and approve the proposal.
“We’re requesting the board take appropriate action and not jeopardize students in the near future,” Holmes said. “The faculty does have a concern about the tactics of the board at this point in time. They feel the board has failed to assist in providing a process to ensure that we have a center.”
Holmes said the resolution has been sent to the chancellor and KCCD Board President Kay Meek and will be presented to the entire board at its Nov. 8. meeting.
Room to grow
If the site proposal is approved in time, the district would agree to a 19-year lease with Bynum & Associates for the construction of a building that will be part of the University Office Center, a new development that, when completed, will feature three buildings of office space and a generous amount of parking.
BC SouthWest would be the first tenant in the first building to be constructed, Holmes said.
The move would be a big step up for the center, which has currently been operating in a 22,000-square-foot space that it has outgrown. Holmes said growth played a significant part in why Castle & Cooke have declined to renew the lease.
“Our students have been gobbling up other tenants’ parking because we’ve outgrown the center,” he said.
Castle & Cooke did not respond to requests for comment.
At 60,000 square feet, the new center would be nearly triple the size of its current one, providing students with plenty of space and the possibility to expand services and programs.
However, Carter said the size may not be enough for growth in the long term. He believes the center could outgrow the space in a few years and then the district would be in a similar position to the one it's in now.
Carter said he thinks the college and district should focus on building its own non-leased center that could support students for several decades to come.
“This whole discussion raises a bigger question about how we spread our assets and service the students in our community better,” he said. “We need to think long-term and look at the big picture.”