College Center

Artist rendering of the proposed West Hills Community College Distritct's college center at Avenal High School.

AVENAL — Students in this small rural town could be getting a new college center within the next few years.

The West Hills Community College District is proposing a center to be located at Avenal High School, with classes to be held at night. The center, expected to be ready within two years, would serve about 500 students, focus mostly on science and technology and include science labs.

The college district is still in negotiations with the Reef-Sunset Unified School District and no action has yet been taken by the board.

“We want to extend educational opportunities to more people,” said District Chancellor Frank Gornick. “This center would make it easier for college and high school students in this area to get an education.”

The project, which is estimated to cost $2 million, is being funded by Measure E, passed in 2008. Gornick said the center is focusing on science and technology because the subjects are key to a lot of the ag-related degrees that are popular in the area.

Over the past few months, the district’s architects have evaluated numerous sites in the city, using criteria such as use capability, infrastructure and room for growth. The architects came to the conclusion that the high school would be the best fit for the center because they could renovate existing facilities.

“We want college students to use it, but thought it would be benefit high school students as well,” Gornick said. “We want them to have good facilities to operate out of.”

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However, Gornick said mixed feelings have emerged about locating the center at the school after they presented their proposal to the Reef-Sunset school board during a recent meeting.

“We recognize that some in the community want a separate stand-alone building, but that does not appear to be in the best interest of the community,” Gornick said. “The college cannot sustain a stand-alone facility because of the higher cost to build, operate and maintain it. On the other hand, having a joint facility at the high school would create more options for students as well as adults and appears to be the better use of tax dollars.”

Gail Monohon, president of the Reef-Sunset board, said she disagrees with the location of the center at the high school and said it’s not what voters expected when they passed Measure E. She also says classes should be offered during the day, which wouldn’t be possible with a center at the high school.

“What our citizens had every right to expect, based on Measure E language, was a ‘learning center’ that by its very definition would involve teachers and learners at a WHC structure,” she said. “It appears that this language is now being interpreted to include the renovation of existing facilities owned by RSUSD. [The community] have been hoodwinked and will continue to pay, for years to come, for something promised and not delivered.”

Monohon said it’s unlikely that the school board will even vote on the issue due to low community support, which would force the West Hills district to continue its location search. However, Monohon said she recognizes the benefits of a college center in the area and is hopeful that the West Hills district can find another location for the project.

“Transportation to the local colleges is a big problem for many,” she said. “Having college classes offered locally would enable many more of our young people to continue their education after high school graduation. [However], classes need to be offered during the same daytime hours as other college campuses, not just evening classes.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2429 or by email at jluiz@hanfordsentinel.com.

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