Changes at College Center aimed at making it easier for students to maneuver through crowded campus hub

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Portland Community College-Sylvania Campus President Linda Gerber chatted with PCC President Jeremy Brown on Monday while he was greeting students in the CC building. Many students embark upon the first day of school at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus with a foray through the Amo DeBernardis College Center.

On the first day of class last week, hundreds of students launched or continued their academic careers there, but change was afoot.

Also known as the CC building, it stands at the heart of the 122-acre Southwest Portland campus. The building houses registration and admissions offices. The 120,000-square-foot structure also holds the cafeteria, two coffee shops, administration offices, student government offices and the counseling/advising, cooperative education (student employment), career services, women’s resource and multicultural centers.

A man in a gray suit with a broad smile greeted students roaming the CC building Monday morning, Sept. 23, — as did evidence of a major renovation of Sylvania’s main digs.

Freshly minted PCC President Jeremy Brown of Lake Oswego hailed students as they entered the building and paused by tables bearing free coffee and baked goods.

Brown stood near the temporarily walled-off core of the CC building, inside of which construction workers were progressing on one portion of a $374 million bond project. The 2008 bond measure dollars, $55 million of which is being invested at the Sylvania campus, have funded new equipment and technology, buildings and renovations at PCC’s many locations.

At Sylvania, several major projects are done or in progress, including the first phase of the CC building improvements, which began this summer. A four-phase face-lift on almost 75 percent of the CC building will span the next three years.

“One of the important things is for us to recognize the bond vote and to show people that we really are a great investment in the community,” said Brown, who took the helm on July 1.

Passers-by occasionally peered in at the laborers through windows installed in the walled-off construction area. Second-year PCC student Mohamed Mohamoud said he and his friends used to hang out between classes where the work is progressing. Mohamoud shrugged and said they’d need to relocate. The Tigard resident wasn’t sure how school was going as of 9 a.m. on his first day.

“It’s just the beginning, so I can’t say anything yet,” he said.

He added that this year he wants to boost his GPA and earn all A’s. After he and his friends chatted, they hustled off to class and other academic obligations.

“I think of the CC building as the college main street,” said Linda Gerber, PCC campus president.

Easier to navigate

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - PCC students at the Sylvania campus wait in line at the bookstore on the first day of school.Changes are aimed at making it easier for people to maneuver the heavily trafficked campus hub. The work would improve access for people with disabilities, adjusting the slope of a steep ramp and eliminating a lower area in the middle of the main floor of the building that required more stairs. There also will be another elevator.

Better lighting and new furniture are on their way. Acoustic upgrades will keep speakers’ voices from being drowned out by echoes pinging off of high concrete ceilings.

Bond construction on the campus — PCC’s oldest, opening in 1968 — that’s done or in the works includes upgrades to G Street, a new storage facility for the automotive building and the relocation of computer resource and student tutoring centers from the CC building to the library. Also, digital technology labs and remodeled photo processing labs have improved the Communications Technology Building.

As a contractor, second-year PCC student Gary Allen of Tigard is accustomed to being amid a construction site. Allen, who’s studying management, said he went through a difficult time in his life last year, but he’s looking forward to a fresh start.

“I think I’m going to have a great term and a great year,” he said, pausing to pour a cup of complimentary coffee.

In a student lounge area nearby, Dorian Carmona was typing away on her laptop. Carmona, a Portland resident, is studying to be a veterinarian, and there’s a vet program at PCC’s Rock Creek campus.

“Ever since I was little, I loved to be around animals, and when an animal was hurt, I wanted to help it, and from then on, I knew I wanted to be in that profession,” Carmona said.

PCC instructors have helped her move toward her dream career.

“My first term, I really struggled, but, because of them, I was able to get through,” she said.

So far, the first day of her third term at PCC was “going pretty good,” she said.

Second-year student Austin Steffen also said things were going smoothly for him. Steffen made sure to arrive at PCC-Sylvania before the mid-morning rush, which he said can be particularly hectic during the first week of classes when parking is free.

Steffen, who is studying management, wants to make sure he stays focused and plans to transfer to Portland State University or Oregon State University. He’s enjoyed his time at PCC.

“I like the environment,” he said. “Everybody’s friendly. It’s easy to adapt here.”

Mohamoud, who attended Tigard High School with Steffen, said it’s easier to start out at a community college rather than a school with large lecture halls packed with students.

“I’d be lost,” he said.

Like Steffen, he’s also considering transferring to a university. Mohamoud is thinking of becoming a counselor, but he’s not sure what his profession will be.

“All I know is I like helping people,” he said.

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