Columbia Gorge Community College officials are watching the progress of legislation that would help fund a Hood River satellite campus.
Dr. Frank Toda, CGCC president, said Senate Bill 720 authorizes $250 million in capital construction at community colleges around the state. CGCC is slated to receive $9.35 million of that funding — if the college can pass a bond levy to provide an equal match.
He said the bill is currently under review by the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which drafts up state budget proposals. If SB720 is approved by law makers, Toda said the college will likely ask voters to approve the additional $9.35 million in November.
“The 2003 Capital Construction package would allow Oregon’s community college to build for the future and serve the current demand by businesses for training and educational opportunities during this period of economic difficulty,” Toda said.
In addition to spending $7.5 million to establish a campus in Hood River, $6 million of the added tax dollars would be used to construct a skill center in The Dalles. The remaining $5.2 million would be allocated for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.
Toda said the need for a campus in Hood River is becoming more critical since enrollment from the area has grown 35 percent during the last year. He said the state of the Gorge economy has contributed to an overall growth in the student population, with dislocated workers making up 20 percent of enrollees. According to Toda, 26 percent of June graduates from all programs will be dislocated workers and the college is expecting another sizable group this summer and fall from the closure of the Goldendale and Northwest Aluminum plants.
Toda is determined to make the Hood River campus a reality even if the Oregon legislature does not approve the proposed funding package. He is joined in that resolution by local port, city and county officials, who have requested just under $1 million of federal grant dollars. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is championing that petition and lobbying to get it approved in the national budget.
“We (Oregon) have the highest unemployment in the nation but we have a real positive attitude about building ourselves out of that,” Toda told Walden at a briefing last week in Hood River.
Walden agreed that educational opportunities provided by CGCC played a vital role in putting dislocated workers back on the job. He credited the “good teamwork” of Hood River’s top leaders for capturing federal dollars each year — and anticipated their united voice would once again be successful.
“We all view CGCC as a critical part of addressing our economic needs — let’s put a full court press on getting people back to work,” said Walden.
While Toda and local government officials investigate all possible funding sources, discussions continue over using the Expo Center for a vocational training facility and college campus. Toda said modular classrooms could be placed in the parking lot and the site on the waterfront is ideal in that it is easily accessible from Interstate 84. In addition, he said the 15 percent of CGCC students who are from Washington state would have convenient passage over the nearby tollbridge.
Meanwhile, the Hood River Valley High School has made classroom space available for a limited selection of CGCC courses, which are also being taught in the former Coe Primary School building.