College surveys 610 people on need for $248 million in facility and instructional upgrades

Published in the November 1-14, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Gavilan Community College President Dr. Kathleen Rose in the newly renovated Student Center at the main campus in Gilroy.

As members of the South Valley community celebrated a ribbon cutting last month at the Gavilan College Student Center to show off the renovated facility, administrators noted the event also marked the closing of projects paid for by the $108 million Measure E bond. Gavilan now looks to the future with a possible new bond to propose to voters in the November 2018 election.

On behalf of Gavilan, True North Research conducted a survey of 610 likely voters living in the Gavilan Joint Community College District. It found 64 percent would support a $248 million local bond measure to upgrade classrooms and labs, enhance career training, and build a campus in San Benito County.

Gavilan’s trustees received the results of the survey at the board’s Oct. 11 meeting and began discussion of whether to ask voters to support the bond. The college has until next summer to file to put the measure on the ballot.

If approved by voters, the money would go not just to “bricks and mortar projects” but also courses including science, healthcare, technology, public safety, cybersecurity and other growing industries, said Dr. Kathleen Rose, president of Gavilan.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Gavilan President Dr. Kathleen Rose at the Welcome Center with, from left, Mary Salmeron, Yulissa Salazar, and Adrienne Vallejo. The students help applicants at the center which was refurbished by Measure E funds.

“It would change the direction of the college and propel us into a full district composition instructionally for the next century and beyond,” she said. “It’s a decision the board needs to take under careful consideration, and it’s a decision I need to think carefully about in terms of my advisement to the board.”

Rose said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the bond getting on the ballot. The amount would be more than double what voters approved for Measure E, which was passed by 56 percent of the voter in March 2004. The survey found 80 percent of respondents think Gavilan needs to upgrade its classrooms, labs and career training facilities for science, math, engineering and technology. It also found 85 percent of respondents favor using bond funds to repair or replace leaky roofs, old rusty plumbing, and faulty electrical systems on the campus.

Money from a new bond would also potentially be used to expand Gavilan’s Veterans Center, a big need as more veterans are returning to college for career development, Rose said.

“We have to have job training, job placement, counseling, and better support services for our veterans,” she said.

If approved, much of the bond money would be budgeted for the construction of Gavilan’s San Benito County campus located on 77 acres of land purchased with Measure E funds. No estimate is available on how much of the proposed bond’s money might go to build the facility near Hollister, Rose said.

Gavilan encourages residents of the district to provide input on whether a new bond should be sought, Rose said. She and staff will make themselves available at community “coffee and conversation” chats throughout the district to receive input, which she will share with the trustees.

“The board is now openly talking about it,” she said. “We’re not trying to push the bond on anyone. We’re having an open dialogue with the community.”

From the feasibility survey, Gavilan discovered that community members living in the district still need to learn more about the college and what it offers in higher education, she said.

One result from the survey that bothered Rose was how the community viewed the quality of Gavilan as an educational institution.

“The result that came back from that question indicated the community just felt neutral about it,” she said. “They didn’t feel highly positive or negative.”

A second question in the survey asked if respondents felt the college was spending its funds wisely. More than 41 percent of the responses said people didn’t know, she said. Measure E funds were managed through a Citizens Oversight Committee so the public would know how money was spent for various projects including the construction of the Coyote Valley campus, the San Martin Airport aviation mechanics classrooms, and infrastructure improvements to the campus, such as bringing the Student Center up to today’s earthquake codes.

Rose said she will continue through the next months to educate the community about what Gavilan offers and its facility and instructional needs. If a new bond is approved, she wants to ensure the public understands the funding will be managed in a way that’s “open, accessible, transparent and comprehensive.”

Solar panels being installed in Gavilan College’s main parking lot in October. Photo by Marty Cheek

Gavilan sees more students in the coming years as four-year state universities become more impacted and tuition increases. According to the survey, 81 percent of respondents think that because of the cost of attending a University of California and State University system has become more expensive, many more students will start their education at one of California’s 114 community colleges. Gavilan has about 11,000 students, 5,300 of whom are full-time equivalent students taking 12 or more units.

Rose believes the open management of the Measure E funds and the success of the various projects will encourage voters to consider another bond.

“Whatever side of the fence you’re on about how the district spent the money for the last bond, we have done some pretty remarkable things,” she said. “We have done some projects that have enhanced our instructional programs, enhanced our student success, and that was the whole point, so you really can’t argue with that. People can argue about Coyote Valley, people can argue about San Martin Airport or Hollister, but if you talk to our students, our students are really happy.”