By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Buoyed by strong voter survey results, Santa Rosa Junior College officials are pressing forward with plans to put a $410 million general obligation bond on the November ballot.
In a presentation at the college trustees’ regular meeting Tuesday, board members were briefed on favorable voter response to a poll about a potential $410 million bond to support facility and technology upgrades at both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses.
The proposal comes as funds from a bond approved more than a decade ago are running out.
Voters in 2002 approved a $251 million bond that paid for a four-story library and media center, a new parking facility, a culinary arts center and an expansion of the Petaluma campus, among other projects.
But President Frank Chong said classrooms, labs and technology — especially in science and math — are outdated, uncomfortable and in need of either demolition or complete upgrade.
“The front side of the campus — you guys clearly did it right,” he said of the public upgrades to the Santa Rosa campus’s Mendocino Avenue side. The western side of campus has been neglected, he said.
“I see it as a tale of two campuses,” he said.
The board is expected to be presented with a more detailed plan of how to proceed at a future meeting, but Chong expressed confidence that voter support of the school and its programs would carry any ballot measure beyond the 55 percent threshold needed for passage.
If the board approves a $410 million package and it is eventually approved by voters, the average cost per taxpayer would be $69 annually, according to Doug Roberts, vice president of business services for the college.
There is about $175 million in principal remaining to paid off from Measure A passed by voters 12 years ago. The current debt to property owners is about $21 on every $100,000 in assessed value. It is expected to be paid off by 2029.
“We need to be competitive with other junior colleges,” board President Jeff Kunde said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
Officials are waiting on creating a facilities master plan and list of priority projects until after trustees decide whether to pursue a bond.
Student fees cannot tackle the kinds of projects being eyed by school officials. The state regulates the per-credit cost — $46 — to attend Santa Rosa Junior College and all community colleges in California. Local officials cannot adjust that cost.
Chong has said that while operating funds have been shored up by voter-approved Proposition 30 in 2012, facilities on the Santa Rosa campus that will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2018 remain an issue.
Several buildings lack air conditioning and sufficient heating; there are leaky roofs across campus; the campus’s Internet bandwidth is regularly maxed out during peak times; and science labs are too small to keep students moving through the system at a feasible pace, Chong said. Wait lists for classes such as chemistry can keep a student at the JC for three years rather than two before transferring to a four-year college, he said.
The poll, conducted by FM3 out of Oakland, polled 801 likely voters in late March. Eight out of 10 respondents either attended or have a family member who attended the college, according to the poll.
More than 9 out of 10 respondents said they have a favorable opinion of the college. The school’s board of trustees fared decidedly poorer — only 53 percent of those who responded have a favorable opinion of the board.
Three out of four respondents said they supported the bond effort at the beginning of the survey, but that figure dropped to 69 percent at the end of the poll.
Slightly more than half of those polled expressed concern about the balance remaining from the college’s 2002 bond, as well as bonds from other local school districts. Sonoma County’s largest K-12 district, Santa Rosa City Schools, is considering putting a general bond on the November ballot.
Officials at FM3 called support for a bond “broad and durable.”