Prospects for a student housing facility and regional skill center at Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC) moved forward Monday as The Dalles council voted unanimously to develop an intergovernmental agreement with the college and Wasco County to use enterprise zone funds for the student housing facility.
“These funds can be used for the greater good, and this could fit with that definition,” said Mayor Stephen Lawrence.
Enterprise Zone funds are collected in lieu of taxes from Design LLC, which has constructed three Google server facilities at the Port of The Dalles. The funds are paid to the city and county, which manage distribution.
The Treaty Oak Regional Skills Center and Campus Housing project is designed to address both a workforce skills gap and housing shortage in the region.
The Oregon legislature allocated $7.3 million to build the skills center in partnership with North Wasco County School District as a “prototype facility ... to focus on grades 11-14 and the transition between high school and post-secondary education,” according to a report produced by the college.
The college and the school district will offer dual enrollment in career-technical skills development needed by regional industries.
The facility would be designed as a “highly flexible space” that can adapt to future needs of industries “we haven’t even dreamed of right now,” said Dan Spatz, CGCC resource development director.
The center would feature two classrooms, mechanical space, a presentation board room and a computer room.
State funding for the skill center must be matched with $7.3 million in non-state funds by January 2019, and the student housing investment would provide that local match.
The housing investment would be in the form of a credit obligation of $7.3 million taken by CGCC.
As proposed, the college would be responsible for servicing $3.8 million of that debt, and the city and county would be responsible for servicing the remaining $3.5 million, using enterprise zone funds. Both the school district and Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue have declared support for the use of enterprise zone funds for the project.
No tax bonds would be used to fund either project.
“The college has conducted extensive research on both housing and the skill center,” said Spatz, who outlined projected costs and benefits of the projects for the council.
The student housing facility would include 18 quad, or four-bed, units; six studio apartments and two residential apartments for a total of 78 rental beds, Spatz said.
Feasibility studies show a significant current need for student housing. Based on rents of $575 for quad beds, and $960 for studio apartments, the housing facility pencils out at 80 percent occupancy, said Spatz, but added that they have identified significant demand.
When asked why the college wasn’t already marketing itself as a “quality of life” college located in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, Spatz said, “We don’t want to attract more students here, when they can’t afford to live here.”
Councilor Tim McGlothlin said he fully supported the projects. A former educator, he said in recent years the move to test-based education has shortchanged students. “We have not been adequately training our kids to enter the workforce,” he explained. “The hands-on learning is where some students really excel.”
Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss said the council also needed to look at what would not be funded should the money be dedicated to the projects.
“People are already concerned about dividing the enterprise zone funds. “This would use up all those funds for a long time.” She said taxing districts should have input on the decision. Mathhew Klebes, enterprise zone manager, said there had been listening sessions with the taxing districts, and additional input could be gathered.
Long-Curtiss then moved to move forward on an intergovernmental agreement, with an emphasis on determining the length of time needed to satisfy the debt without drawing on any additional funds. “We need to be only using the enterprise zone funds, not drawing from the general fund,” she explained.