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COC board approves two contracts totaling $2.8 million, begin collecting public input and tour facilities 

Tensions ran high as members of the public and Santa Clarita Community College District board members expressed their frustrations and concerns regarding a new affordable student housing project the district will explore because of a $62 million state grant. 

After an hour and half of discussion regarding the project and consideration of two contracts totaling $2.8 million to begin the early planning phase for the project, the board of trustees voted 3-1 Wednesday night to approve the contracts with the addition that COC staff will begin to collect public input and tour other affordable student housing facilities for further input in the concepts. 

“This starts the ball rolling,” said Jim Schrage, assistant superintendent/vice president of facilities, planning, operating and construction for COC. “This will allow us to take that step to figure out what’s going to potentially end up working.” 

According to Schrage, COC’s usual process for design and building is that staff recommends an architect, the board goes through the approval process, then staff collects input from stakeholders, and input is shared with the architects to come up with concepts or improve on them. 

Once concepts are complete, those ideas are brought forth to the board for final approval. Architects begin construction drawings, which begins the design process for the new building, expected to house 100 students.  

During that process, COC will conduct numerous sessions with stakeholders to provide further feedback to the architect’s concepts for the structure.  

The board of trustees took public comment twice on this item, once before and at the end of the discussion. Stephen Petzold, a resident of the SCV and who often attends COC’s meetings, expressed his opposition to the project for several reasons, which includes opening the community college to students outside of the state or country; changing the culture of COC; an ethical issue with COC hiring Westberg White Architects; and how the project would affect the surrounding neighborhoods. 

“It’s just very sad that you’re taking money from the needs of real homeless people and divert it to students that probably do not live in our district, and who may want to transfer to a Division 1 school or come in from foreign countries,” Petzold said.  

“This is atrocious to me, specifically regarding the award of the architect contract. I’m shocked,” he continued to say during public comment. “The one that you picked, Westberg White Architects, filed a stipulation with the FPPC [Fair Political Practices Commission] admitting to campaign finance violations. You picked the one that gave $10,000 to COC.” 

In response, Schrage said COC has a long-standing relationship with the architect firm. Westberg White Architects completed two projects with COC in 2015, and in addition, the firm has the expertise to navigate the requirements from the Division of State Architects office, which is overseeing these affordable student housing projects throughout the state. 

“There’s no reason not to recommend them for this process,” Schrage said. “I don’t see another firm that’s capable of doing this with the same efficiency.” 

Among the board of trustees, there was a shared sentiment that the $62 million grant would bring a lot of opportunity for low-income students.  

Board President Edel Alonso said she was in full support of the project, but her biggest concern was the ongoing costs of operation the structure. 

COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook said the district has not received commitment from the city of Santa Clarita or Los Angeles County to provide Measure H funding, which may be a source of funding for ongoing operational costs. It’s something COC staff has to look further into, she said. 

Board member Joan MacGregor said she was pleased with the money and that COC could pursue this project. However, the process and the speed at which information has become available made it difficult to support and “feel confident in the financial viability of the project.” 

Van Hook reiterated to the board that a lot of their questions wouldn’t have answers until the architects bring forth concepts for the project.  

As part of the discussion, COC staff agreed they would begin to do several things, including visiting other community colleges or four-year universities to see different housing structures, conduct meetings with various stakeholders to include their input, and hopefully, bring back more information for the board. 

“I would suggest that we if we move forward with tonight, we can start doing that planning and do tours in April or May, so that we can bring back the information, the input and feedback while we’re looking at preliminary concepts,” Van Hook said. 

There were many questions left unanswered, but Van Hook reassured the board they would have more information after the architects began their preliminary work. This project is the first of its kind, she added, as there’s nothing else like this on COC campuses.  

“I’ll just qualify I will still be voting no,” MacGregor said. “I feel very strongly that I cannot approve anything in $2 million expenditure without a single financial spreadsheet or document. There’s nothing in the presentation and the indication is they have no answers for that.” 

The board of trustees is expected to consider the concepts at a future date.