MJC project still alive despite challenges
by Jonathan Partridge | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 14, 2013 | 2110 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A 4-acre vacant lot on the southwest corner of Keystone Boulevard and Keystone Parkway is still a being considered to house a future site of the Modesto Junior College West Side site. However, nothing is set in stone, and administrators now say there may be multiple sites for the future Patterson complex.-- Irrigator file photo
A 4-acre vacant lot on the southwest corner of Keystone Boulevard and Keystone Parkway is still a being considered to house a future site of the Modesto Junior College West Side site. However, nothing is set in stone, and administrators now say there may be multiple sites for the future Patterson complex.-- Irrigator file photo
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MODESTO — Modesto Junior College’s future educational site in Patterson has faced no shortage of setbacks since voters approved a $326.1 million bond in 2004 for the satellite campus and a host of other local community college projects.

The location of the Yosemite Community College District project has switched twice and the project timeline has been extended multiple times, most recently because the state slashed all funding for off-site community college centers last year.

College administrators do not know when or where the complex will open or whether it will be on one site or multiple sites.

Despite those challenges, Modesto Junior College President Jill Stearns expressed high hopes for the Patterson site after the passage of Proposition 30, a tax hike to benefit California schools that was approved by 55.4 percent of statewide voters in November.

“We want to really have this be a life-changing opportunity on the West Side,” Stearns said this week.

Focus on jobs

Administrators’ foresee MJC’s Patterson complex as a place that will offer a host of vocational training programs, many of which would be run with input from regional businesses and with support from the Alliance Worknet program, Stearns said.

Worknet, which provides resources to help people find jobs, is a division of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, an economic development agency that works on behalf of Stanislaus County and its cities.

Stearns said she hopes the site’s vocational thrust will attract nontraditional students who would not necessarily think of themselves as college material.

“I hope for many that this would be a stepping stone for them — that they would think maybe college is for them after all,” she said.

The site could include distance-learning opportunities, in which professors could give lectures from other sites through videoconferencing and other student services, such as appointments with counselors provided by two-way video, Stearns said.

Funding sources unknown

It’s still unclear when and where the Patterson complex would open or how much it would cost to build.

Measure E allocated about $5 million toward the Patterson site, but the district had already spent $1.4 million of that money as of June 12 on land acquisition, according to a report from a bond oversight committee made up of appointed community members who live within the Yosemite Community College District.

The college district oversees MJC and Columbia College in Sonora.

The real concern, however, is how to fund the project once it is built, Stearns said. The district estimates it will cost at least $800,000 per year to run MJC’s West Side site.

“Quite frankly, in our current budget, we don’t have discretionary monies to do that,” Stearns said.

The district plans to apply for various grants. In addition, MJC hopes to build partnerships with the city of Patterson, West Side school districts, the Stanislaus County Office of Education and other groups to somehow defray the cost, Stearns said.

Looking for land

Finding land for the project is another hurdle. District officials announced in 2011 they had plans to build on a 4-acre parcel north of the Frontier Communications building and east of Patterson Fire Station 2 at Keystone Pacific Parkway and Keystone Boulevard.

While that parcel is still being considered, nothing is set in stone, Stearns said.

In addition, the college may look at building on multiple sites in the West Side, she said.

“Sometimes technical education and academics have competing noise levels,” Stearns said with a chuckle.

The district has looked at other sites in the past. A land deal on Sperry Avenue near Baldwin Road fell through in 2007 after developer Michael Miroyan missed a deadline to sign over the land. Then, college trustees passed up on another site off of Elfers Road south of Patterson in 2011 after realizing the site had security and infrastructure challenges.

No schedule for construction

Nearly six years after the district hoped the college site would offer classes, its opening date remains unknown.

The Patterson location was slated to open by fall 2007 when trustees initially voted to accept a 30-acre gift of land on Sperry Avenue in October 2005. That opening date was extended over the years, as subsequent land deals fell through and as college district officials could not figure out how to fund the satellite’s operations.

A June 2012 report from the Measure E Bond Oversight Committee set the opening date for fall 2014, but college district officials announced at a Jan. 31 study session that all timelines are now off the table.

College district trustee Anne DeMartini, who represents an area that includes the West Side, said during the session that she was happy to see district officials make progress. At the same time, she was concerned that administrators still did not have a timeline.

“I don’t have any answers for my constituents,” she said. “It is frustrating. I’m concerned about how long to be polite.”

DeMartini is often quick to note that Patterson voters showed more support for Measure E — about 70 percent voted for the measure — than any other city within the district’s service area.

YCCD Chencellor Joan Smith said district administrators are steadily working on project plans and aim to present trustees with more solid information about how to move forward.

“We’re not going to be sitting on this,” Smith said. “We’re going to have a really good, hard update this summer.”

Sales tax measure makes a difference

Stearns said the passage of Proposition 30 is what gives her optimism as district officials look ahead. The measure increases the state sales tax by a 1/4-cent for four years and raises income taxes on the wealthy by 1 to 3 percent for seven years, providing guarantees of educational funding during those years.

“It’s tremendous,” Stearns said. “It’s the first time in five years that as a college and as a district we’re not facing a development of what we’re going to reduce but assurances that the current funding is going to roll forward.”

Smith told the board the district had no way of anticipating several years of budget cuts from the state. She wants to make sure there is enough money to keep it running when it opens.

“If it takes a whole year to plan, I think it’s worth it,” she said.

Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or jonathan@pattersonirrigator.com

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