Gavilan trustees talk over future for Hollister campus

A pigeon sits atop the Briggs Building, undeterred by the sound effects.

Gavilan College trustees held their first ad hoc educational site committee meeting in three years this week to look at possible partnerships that would bring more higher education opportunities to San Benito County.
Voters in the San Benito and Santa Clara counties approved Measure E, a $108 million general facilities bond that upgraded the existing Gilroy campus and purchased land for satellite campuses in Hollister and Morgan Hill, in 2004. But San Benito County residents have long been bitter that trustees approved the purchase of Coyote Valley property for about $21 million–more than twice what was allocated in the original master plan—while they spent about $9.8 million to do the same in San Benito County. Gavilan broke ground on phase one of a project at the Coyote Valley site in December but the college has not made the same progress at property purchased in San Benito County.
Three plans for establishing possible education centers—seen as a baby step toward establishing a full campus because they can increase enrollment numbers in the area, which can earn the site matching dollars for building facilities if the state passes a bond—emerged at the meeting Tuesday at the Briggs Building in downtown Hollister.
Hollister’s City Manager Bill Avera presented a plan that would have the college partnering with the city for a center at the former Leatherback Industries site near downtown Hollister while Bruce Lewis of Ridgemark Golf and Country Club presented a possible joint venture with the golf course, which is located across from Gavilan’s already purchased Fairview Corners property.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez also suggested a “tel center” that would combine technology, education and a library center and be a joint partnership between the city, high school and college district, during public comment.
Prior to this week, the ad hoc educational site committee had not met for three years, since Aug. 1, 2012, according to the college’s website. Three trustees—including Kent Child and Lois Locci, who both represent San Benito County; as well Jonathan Brusco who represents Morgan Hill—spoke to a room of about 25 community members including the mayor and Gavilan College President Steve Kinsella.
Avera presented a plan in which the college district would enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city to use a property that was the former site of Leatherback Industries, off Hillcrest Road and McCray Street, with a drawing of the proposed site showing an “H” shaped building to the north and a large parking lot to the south.
“If Gavilan has no desire to do something, we’d rather know something sooner rather than later,” the city manager said, as he explained there had already been attorney fees and money paid for a drawing of the site.
One point of concern was the nearby concrete and landscaping supplies company, which could create lots of noise at the site, though a community member explained the drawing showed trees and greenery that would buffer the sound.
Child thanked Avera for the contribution and said he would bring it to the board.
“We certainly want to pursue it and see if it is feasible,” the trustee said.
Lewis of Ridgemark suggested a partnership between the community college and the golf course for cooking classes, hotel management, golf course maintenance/ landscaping, meeting planning, sports management or tennis might boost enrollment numbers that would help the site qualify for matching dollars for more permanent facilities if there was a state bond.
“Very few facilities offer all the opportunities that Ridgemark has and we’re right across the way. And we want to be a part of fundraising for you,” Lewis said. “Again, we’re not trying to be a permanent facility. We’re trying to be supportive so we can get this college here as quickly as possible.”
Locci was the first to comment after the presentation.
“Wow, what a package,” she said. “Impressive.”
Child said he would convey the information to the board at the next board meeting.
During the same meeting, Fredrick Harris, the vice president of administrative services, gave an update about the Coyote Valley property, which is set to have five modular buildings on 15 of the 55 acres for day use by the South Bay Regional Public Safety Consortium Project—a police academy—and evening use for classes by November 2017.
Hollister Resident Marty Richman supported the idea of an education center but expressed concerns during public comment that not enough of the Measure E bond money was reaching San Benito County. Aurelio Zuniga, another Hollister resident, referenced the consortium and said he had been investigating whether the project was included in the full text presented to voters when they approved the bond in 2004.
“The answer is no and everyone should know that,” Zuniga said. “So spending Measure E bond funds is a clear violation of Proposition 39.”
In closing comments, Locci urged the district to move forward and mentioned she had studied communities that challenged projects that weren’t on the original bond list, she said.
“And folks may have been right,” she said. “But no one has ever been able to win that case. I’m a pragmatist.”
Kathleen Ruiz, a former dean for Gavilan College and a San Benito County resident, asked the trustees when the community could expect to see action on items discussed at the meeting.
“Why can’t you give us a timeline that you’ll make a decision by such and such date?” Ruiz said.
“Well, we can’t go down the path if we can’t afford to do it,” Child said.
The mayor emphasized the importance of partnerships between the high school, county and city. Facets like increasing enrollment could be solved through that type of teamwork, he explained.
“We can do this. What we need is a partnership from you to talk about what’s realistic,” said the city mayor, “and that can happen fairly quickly.”

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