The Kern Community College District voted Thursday to place a $502.8 million bond measure for facilities upgrades on the November ballot, marking one of the largest bond measures the district has ever asked voters to approve.
The money would pay for scores of renovation and construction projects at the district's three campuses, however the lion's share — about $315 million — would go to Bakersfield College, according to the district facilities master plan.
“It is our time as leaders to reinvest in Bakersfield College come November,” Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, a BC alumnus and chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee promoting the bond, told board members during their meeting Thursday. “I firmly believe the community will choose to reinvest as well. Dream big. Our future and the 25,000 students who attend Bakersfield College depend on it.”
Projects in that plan include constructing a veterans resource center and agriculture center, modernizing the gymnasium, and expanding a science, engineering and mathematics building for $65 million. That STEM building is considered by many, including Hall and BC President Sonya Christian, as the crown jewel of the project list.
Christian highlighted the district’s need for an improved veterans resource center and said it would be among the first set of buildings constructed if voters approve the bond.
What’s still being debated, however, is a satellite campus in Arvin. Residents have been asking board members for years to construct a facility within their rural community to make college more attainable.
Despite an outreach facility appearing on the project list, Hall said it’s something that remains “up in the air.”
District Trustee Kyle Carter said that needs to change.
“It’s an important thing we really need to take a hard look at. These people come at us not with their hands out, but their hearts out. We’re here to educate people and Arvin is the second poorest district in the nation,” Carter said. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”
The bond measure also includes a slew of out-of-sight projects, like replacing outdated plumbing and electrical systems, air conditioning units and weathered roofs.
“When you go down that list, you’ll see that we scrubbed down the list. It’s not a list of wants — it’s a list of needs,” Christian said.
This is the second time since 2002 that the Kern Community College District has asked voters for bonds. The first was in 2002 when voters passed the $203 million Measure G. Roughly $63 million in Measure G funds remain, but have been committed to projects at Bakersfield College, Christian said.
The Kern County Taxpayers Association supports the measure, said Executive Director Mike Turnipseed. He praised the bond, calling it a “tremendous savings” for taxpayers because of the way it was structured.
At least 55 percent of voters would need to vote in favor of the bond Nov. 8, something that pollsters contracted by the district have shown is probable.
Seventy percent of respondents said they would “probably” or “definitely” vote for a measure asking for $527 million in bonds, according to a June survey by FM3 Research, a Los Angeles-based public policy opinion research firm. Roughly 27 percent said they would not vote for the bond measure, the survey shows.
That $527 million figure changed Thursday when officials redrew the improvement district boundaries to discount Inyo County, where voters likely would not have supported the bond and affected its chances of passing, KCCD Associate Vice Chancellor Michelle Bresso said.
“Voters these days, their top priority is local control, local measures that impact the community directly. No other measure statewide approached 60 percent and your measure with that language is 71 percent,” John Fairbank of FM3 Research said.