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Higher Education College to buy land on Heights for HR facility

By DAN SPATZ

The Dalles Chronicle

July 23, 2005

Development of a permanent campus in Hood River for Columbia Gorge Community College came closer to reality this week, as directors approved acquisition of property from a private seller.

The site comprises approximately 13.5 acres immediately west of 12th Street (Tucker Road) on the Heights in Hood River, adjacent to the Ford dealership. The site borders a stream and has limited frontage along 12th Street.

Acquisition for $1.3 million, plus a share of closing costs, is contingent upon site inspections and other work to ensure the property is appropriate for development. A due diligence period started Friday, and the closing date is Sept. 21.

The property is known as the “Gaddis site” for a former owner, who sold it only two weeks previously to another subject. The current owner’s name has not been made public.

“It provides an opportunity for growth in the future, and a site in Hood River,” noted David Fenwick, a college board member from Hood River. He identified conditions in the site’s favor as “the sheer beauty of it, and the fact that it’s on a road that makes it accessible to everyone.”

Proximity to the creek, he added, “is absolutely a plus.”

The college has reviewed 11 sites in Hood River over the past four years. That process gained new urgency with passage of the bond measure last November, and has been guided in part by the college’s development of an academic master plan. This process, led by Dr. Susan Wolff, dean of instruction, will help determine infrastructure design in both The Dalles and Hood River.

“Of all the sites we’ve looked at this one seems to be the most conducive to the master plan we’ve worked out with the community,” Fenwick said. “This seems to fit better with the conclusions of that master plan.”

“It truly does provide all the opportunities our planning group wanted to make available,” said Dr. Wolff, speaking after the meeting Thursday night.

The special meeting, much of it in executive session to discuss the real estate transaction, was conducted via conference call.

The vote was 5 to 1 in favor of the acquisition, with the lone opposing vote cast by Meredith Van Valkenburgh of The Dalles.

VanValkenburgh argued it was “poor judgment” on the board’s part to pursue the acquisition. This followed discussion in open session on apparent alterations made to the property’s boundaries, and the overall size of the parcel, following the board’s initial review of a site map at an earlier meeting.

The previous sale price was $925,000.

“I’m not really considering the ... profit being made by the seller,” Fenwick said, arguing in favor of the purchase. “We have looked at a lot of other property and this still looks like the best deal per acre, and the most usable for the college.”

“It’s another step as we continue to invest in the future of the college,” said Dr. Frank Toda, college president. “This is a critical step as we extend services in Hood River, as per the commitment made during the bond campaign. With this major decision made, we can bring the focus on the master plan we’ve been working on.”

Toda noted the college used a “criteria-based assessment” process in winnowing 11 potential sites in Hood River, and he thanked his staff for their work.

Voters in Wasco and Hood River counties last November approved an $18.5 million bond measure, with proceeds to be used for new construction in The Dalles and Hood River, and renovation of existing buildings on The Dalles campus.

Pending a permanent site, the college is leasing space temporarily from the Port of Hood River in the “Big 7” building.

The overall construction program is still awaiting the Oregon State Legislature, where lawmakers are debating an additional $10.8 million pledged for college construction.

Expenditure of the $18.5 million bond approved by voters is not contingent upon the state money, but if lawmakers approve state funds it would affect building design, allowing the college to plan for long-term growth as well as immediate needs.

However, the college cannot delay construction much longer. Passage of the bond measure established deadlines to initiate the project, and the college must proceed with the work later this year.

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