CR president assures locals that DN campus here to stay

As College of the Redwoods deliberates the future of its Mendocino Coast site, the school's president said Tuesday it will continue to support the Del Norte campus.

During the first regular CR Board of Trustees meeting in Crescent City in more than two years, President Kathryn Smith and the trustees discussedbond-funded projects at the Del Norte campus. Trustees visited the site of a proposed $500,000 science lab to be funded with bond money. They also agreed to draft a letter to the Local Transportation Commission in support of an alternate route around Last Chance Grade on U.S. Highway 101.

And after trustees heard from a handful of students and professors about the proposed suspension of operations at CR's Mendocino Coast Education Center, Smith responded to worries that a similar proposal would be made for the Del Norte site.

"I just want to make sure everybody up here does not feel like they're next or something else is going to happen up here," she said. "We serve a completely different community up here. We have a different number of students and different programs. I do take to heart some of the comments we've heard today about improvements that can be made here and so we will be working with the community and folks up here on what can be done."

Trouble in Mendocino

Just before the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges lifted all sanctions and probations from College of the Redwoods, Smith in January recommended that CR suspend operations at its Fort Bragg and Garberville sites starting in the 2014-15 academic year.

The college's "show-cause" accreditation status - ACCJC's most severe sanction- hurt student enrollment in Mendocino. Smith had recommended that CR reach out to Mendocino College in Ukiah to potentially offer classes on the coast.

On Tuesday, a Mendocino student asked the status of a potential memorandum of understanding between CR and Mendocino College and if there was a contingency plan if the two schools couldn't come to an agreement.

Smith said she hopes to bring "something" to the Board of Trustees in May.

"Because of the relationship that we're building and the discussions we're having, we can't at this point put out any contingency plans as requested," she said. "We'll see where we are in May and see what we can do at that time. There will still be plenty of time to work on (that) for the fall semester."

Speaking up for DN

In Del Norte, even though the Board discussed a series of projects funded through Measure Q bond funds, Kevin Hartwick, a founding member of CR's Del Norte Endowment, told trustees that the local community has lost its say in decisions that affect the local campus.

Hartwick cited a recent statement from CR's administration that enrollment in Del Norte has historically supported its operational expenditures. But when the ACCJC imposed "show cause" status on CR, the college made organizational changes that resulted in the centralization of services and decision-making capabilities at its main campus in Eureka, he said.

"The campus' lead position has been downgraded and the community has no readily accessible administrator with decision-making authority to deal with our local issues," Hartwick said. "The enrollment supporting the expenditures happened when the community could communicate its needs directly with a leader on campus. We're requesting you to review your staffing levels now specifically at the administrative level to ensure your revenues stay up and community needs are met."

CR's Board of Trustees should take steps to improve communication between the college, local businesses and local government, including Del Norte's Native American tribes, Hartwick said. He asked CR to reinstall an administrator locally who could listen to community concerns and make changes. Hartwick also pointed to the fact that it had been a few years since trustees met in Del Norte and asked the Board to commit to one meeting a year in Del Norte.

"We've got issues up here we need help with and we need an active partner," Hartwick said. "The college is important. We see some holes and we really need help and we're willing to help in that process."

Touring the campus

Since the Board was meeting at the Del Norte campus, it took the opportunity to visit the site of a proposed science lab, which would be paid for with Measure Q bond funds. About $4.1 million of the $40 million bond was allocated for completed and planned upgrades at the Del Norte campus. Voters approved the districtwide bond in 2004.

Lee Lindsey, CR's vice president of administrative services, said the college is still working on the conceptual plans and drawings for the science lab, which would also include a cadaver lab for the nursing program.

"The $500,000 cost is probably going to go over when we put the cadaver lab in," he said, adding that the dollar figure is an estimate. "But we have said that we want to do the project correctly and right and not have change orders. I'd rather know ahead of time if it's going to cost us more, that way we can work it into the budget."

According to Professor Mark Renner, who teaches geology and computer information systems at the Del Norte campus, the current lab's design is comparable to a 1980s high school level chemistry lab. He said that in addition to making the room more handicapped accessible, the college should do some seismic retrofitting.

"We had an earthquake a few years ago," Renner said. "It was not a big earthquake, but when I came in the next day and opened up one of the cabinets and had a 15- to 20-pound specimen go flying by my head, it made me realize that it could have landed on my watermelon. Seismic retrofitting must certainly be just as important as ADA upgrades."

Daniel Potts, president of CR's Student Senate and a student at the Del Norte campus, said his constituents have expressed concerns that the ADA-compliant work area is farthest from the exit. He pointed out if the room needed to be evacuated, a student could be trapped, and asked if an extra door could be added.

According to Lindsey, adding an extra door could cost $200,000 at least. He warned that it would be expensive to get approval from the California Division of the State Architect.

Trustee Bruce Emad, who represents Humboldt County, suggested they place the ADA-compliant work area closest to the room's current exit.

Potts was enthusiastic about the project.

"This is great that we're actually going through with this," he said. "Our community definitely needs this."

Other proposed bond-funded projects at the Del Norte campus include the purchase or lease of a portable classroom and the installation of ADA-compliant ramps. Roughly $3.5 million in bond money also helped modernize the campus's main building.

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