$503 million bond measure to shape the future of the KCCD

Morgan Park, Reporter

Kern County citizens are set to vote on a new bond measure this coming November that could drastically change the face of Bakersfield College, as well as the Delano campus, Porterville College and Cerro Coso College.

The bond, called Measure J, would grant nearly $503 million to the Kern Community College District to expand and modernize its schools over the next several decades.

The official plan for the bond measure lists well over 100 new projects for BC alone that spans from brand new buildings, modernization of older buildings and deferred maintenance across the campus.

“The advantage of people voting yes on Measure J is that we will, in a few years, have one of the most modern facilities on any college campus in California,” said Bill Thomas, a retired congressman of almost 30 years, BC professor from 1965-1974 and senior adviser for the Measure J project.

The biggest proposed project for BC would be the construction of a new Science and Engineering Building at a cost of $60 million.

“The single largest expenditure of the bond is not to do the best we can to add classrooms to the old buildings, but build a new building that will allow us to provide all of the opportunities that afforded us in the technical science areas in the last 60 years,” said Thomas.

“Do you know anyone who drives a car daily that was made in 1956?”

Thomas also emphasized BC’s need for a women’s field house on campus, so as to truly fulfill what Title IX (which prevents the discrimination or exclusion from any activity or education program on the basis of sex) intended. The proposed field house would cost $7.5 million.

“When you’re dealing with the sexes, male and female facilities for physical activities, it is essential that they have separate facilities for many reasons, but they should be equal. And they aren’t now. So we’re going to build a women’s field house that will provide separate and equal facilities, which allows us to free up space for additional classrooms [in the men’s facilities] as we go forward,” said Thomas.

Thomas’ last project emphasis is the new proposed Veterans Resource Center, which would cost $8 million.

“Part of the money under Measure J is to build a facility to allow for veterans to have the kind of support structures and assistance that they need to have a successful college experience,” he said.

“Those are the kind of things that we say are going to be essential for the next 20 to 25 years to make sure that Bakersfield College remains one of the preeminent educational institutions not in the southern San Joaquin Valley, but in California.”

Thomas wants to assure voters that no penny of the bond would go toward the salaries of faculty or administration at the schools. “It isn’t to pay people. It’s to build facilities that can be used by future students,” he said.

Thomas sees Measure J as a form of self-help for Kern County.

“We can’t expect Southern California or Northern California to fund what we need to do to maintain the quality of Bakersfield College and the other schools in the Kern Community College District. We are going to do it ourselves, for ourselves. And that’s the key to Measure J. It’s not going to happen unless we do it,” said Thomas.

Measure J is heading onto the ballot at the heels of Measure G, the bond measure passed in 2002 that granted the KCCD $180 million for new construction and modernizations across the district’s schools.

The final projects of Measure G are still in progress after 14 years, and some will not be addressed altogether. Tom Burke, chief financial officer at KCCD, said the obstacles for Measure G were the result of two unforeseeable circumstances.

“We were hoping that the state was going to pass more capital bonds, but they did not.

The last statewide bond was in 2006, and that’s been it. We were always hoping to significantly leverage the Measure G bond to capture those state funds,” said Burke.

With the leverage of money raised with Measure G, Burke said they were hopeful to receive perhaps another $180 million to go toward the bond.

The other reason, as Burke recounted, was a consequence of The Republic of China buying up building materials and driving up the costs of construction.

“The inflation on construction costs went through the roof. We figured we lost 30% of Measure G’s buying power,” he said.

Thomas saw Measure G as a way for BC to redecorate and refurbish a few of its buildings.

“But that was 14 years ago. The campus was, at that time, 50 years old. And we fixed it up a bit so we could wait longer for the big change that is necessary. Measure J is the big change that is necessary,” said Thomas.

Burke said that there is still approximately $53 million left in Measure G, all of which has already been allocated for the measure’s final projects.

Finishing up Measure G is currently the district’s main focus, but Burke foresees some overlap in construction if Measure J passes.

Bill Potter, head of Maintenance & Operations at BC, is currently overseeing one of the final Measure G projects, a new Maintenance & Operations building.

When it comes to Measure J, Potter is most excited for the smaller improvements across the campus.

“Everyone likes to see that big brand new building or renovations on buildings, which is great, but I’m more for the infrastructure stuff,” he said. “We need to replace our parking lots desperately on campus.”

Potter also touched on infrastructure improvements that most students likely won’t notice, like updating the electric, sewer, water and air conditioning systems on campus. “Nobody gets excited about that stuff.”

The district said they have no official plan for the first Measure J projects if the bond passes, but Potter foresees one particular project as the first if the money comes in.

“The Business Services and Bookstore building will be leveled, and we’ll build a new building over the top there,” Potter said.

Potter said the construction would probably take two years, and meanwhile, the bookstore would be temporarily located across the street next to Kern Schools Federal Credit Union.

Thomas believes Measure J holds the sweeping improvements that BC deserves after all of these years.

“As Kern County grew and prospered, Bakersfield College grew.

But the shoes it’s wearing and the pants it has on are 60 years old. We need new shoes, and we need bigger pants so we can continue to grow.”