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MHCC mulls $125 million bond, would be first since 1974

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MT. HOOD COMMUNITY COLLEGE - Students work in the Workforce and Applied Technology Center, which would be replaced if voters approve a proposed $125 million bond in May. In 1974 Steven King published his first novel, President Richard Nixon resigned, “The Sting” won the Academy Award and voters passed a facilities bond for Mt. Hood Community College. The college hasn’t passed once since.

The school will likely put a $125 million bond on the May 2016 ballot to make some key upgrades to college buildings and infrastructure.

A $125 million bond will cover “only the top priorities,” MHCC president Debra Derr told The Outlook.

The decision to bring a bond to voters was a result of asking community members what they needed from the college as part of a strategic planning process, Derr said.

The answer was training for family-wage jobs and expansion of the college’s capabilities to teach skilled trades and applied technologies such as mechatronics, the 21st Century, high-technology form of industrial maintenance.

So, the biggest investment from the bond will be a new Workforce and Applied Technology Center, which houses programs in automotive repair, welding and other skilled trades.

The heavily-used campus at Maywood Park will also be replaced. The bond will also pay for safety and security upgrades.

Most of MHCC’s main campus buildings were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The college serves about 33,000 students every year and facilities such as its aquatics center, theater and planetarium get a lot of use by the community. Gresham’s population is now about 106,500, but was only about 10,000 in 1970, as the main MHCC campus was being completed.

“The old applied technologies building is built like a bunker. It can’t be expanded,” Derr said. The building is also not easily accessible to people with disabilities as now required by law and is not able to accommodate technology upgrades necessary to train students in these rapidly-changing fields, Derr said.

The Maywood Park center, which houses vocational studies and other operations, is a former Catholic school built in the 1930s. Earlier in the facilities planning process, MHCC thought they could just upgrade the Maywood Park building, but “it is less expensive to tear down the building and build a new one,” Derr said.

The new Maywood Park campus will rise across the street from the current building and the parking lot put on the old building’s site.

The new building will be bigger and more efficient to operate, Derr said.

Most of the rest of a $125 million bond would be earmarked for safety and security upgrades. The main campus has the open hallways fashionable in the 1960s.

“We have no way to lock down the campus,” Derr said.

So, safety provisions such as emergency telephone communications and cameras are key. Although Derr did not specifically mention the Oct. 1 shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College, which killed nine people and wounded nine others, that was clearly the concern when she talked about “this horrible thing” that needs to be addressed.

The old brick buildings also need to be strengthened to protect people from an earthquake or other natural disasters, too, she said.

Oregon has offered $8 million in matching facilities funds to community colleges passing bonds for at least that much, and Derr wants to take advantage of those funds.

Although a possible bond is more than six months away, the school is already gearing up to convince voters to approve it. Board members, Derr and others are already meeting with community groups. “There has been quite a bit of activity over the last month,” Derr told the board at their Wednesday, Oct. 21 meeting. They are using consultant Paige Richardson of Springwater Partners to help shape a possible bond campaign.

A bond political action committee is being formed and hopes to raise $200,000 for a robust bond push. Board member Michael Calcagno pledged $1,000 toward that effort at the Oct. 21 board meeting.

Junki and Linda Yoshida of Troutdale hosted a party to support the PAC. The student government is working to engage students to help pass the bond and plans voter registration drives among students.

“We have listened to our community, and this is our plan,” Derr said. “The message to the community is ‘we need your help’ in order for us to move the college forward.”


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