Columbia Gorge Community College will ask Hood River and Wasco County voters to approve a bond measure in the November 2003 general election, directors decided Thursday night.
The measure will allow the college to purchase property in Hood River for a permanent classroom building and replace the college Skill Center on The Dalles campus. The skill center closed permanently at the start of the winter term, when officials discovered extensive deterioration and mold throughout the structure. Skill Center functions have since been distributed through the already-crowded buildings on The Dalles campus, a short-term solution which college directors consider untenable for an extended period of time. A bond measure would also allow the college to fix several ongoing building problems on The Dalles campus, including leaky roofs in the main classroom and administrative buildings.
The bond amount has not yet been determined, although the board reviewed three preliminary options at Wednesday’s meeting, which was held in Hood River Valley High School. This ranged from $9 million — the minimum to replace the Skill Center, purchase Hood River property and conduct essential repairs — to $25 million, which would allow construction of additional new buildings on The Dalles campus and develop a college center in Hood River. The college board considered but rejected a proposal to place the bond measure on the May 2003 ballot, with a majority deciding this wouldn’t allow sufficient time to conduct a successful bond campaign.
Meanwhile, the college is negotiating with a potential developer for a Hood River building, and purchase of property in Hood River is a necessary first step toward that construction project.
Hood River voters approved annexation into the college district in 2001, but state legislators failed to fulfill their commitment of annexation funding as one result of Oregon’s fiscal crisis. The same statewide revenue crisis has driven a series of college funding cuts, and these continued this week with projected loss of another $105,000. (There was some good news, though: the state community college board successfully shepherded a one-time payment of $276,000 to offset Hood River operational costs, an amount essentially donated to Columbia Gorge Community College with the approval of all the other 16 community colleges in Oregon.)
“This is our opportunity to take charge of our own destiny,” said college director Dave Fenwick of Hood River, who argued for the earlier election date. “We’re cutting the strings from Salem,” he added, noting voters’ rejection of Measure 28 because of concerns it would route money to the state bureaucracy. “We’re spending money on our own institutions, our own kids, our own adults,” Fenwick added. Several other directors from both The Dalles and Hood River agreed. But others from both communities questioned the chances of passage in only a few months’ time.
Meredith VanValkenburgh, a college director from The Dalles, argued for a later election date, saying the poor economy and threat of war in Iraq made earlier passage unlikely. “When we do it, we should do it right,” he said.