PCC seeks bond for upkeep, equipment
Nine years after voters passed a $374 million bond measure for Portland Community College to accommodate burgeoning enrollment, PCC is back to ask for another bond — this one to generate $185 million over the next 15 years.
Some are portraying the bond measure as a renewal, but school officials acknowledge that it's not only a new bond, it represents a change in approach.
"This is a very different bond from the 2008 bond," Sylvia Kelley, PCC executive vice president, said.
While the 2008 bond was about buildings, including construction of the Newberg Center, about half of the proposed new spending is projected to go toward maintenance, IT upgrades and safety improvements. Other funds will go for classroom equipment.
"This one is really ultimately focused on workforce development," Kelley said.
The taxes authorized by the new bond, if passed, would be layered on top of those generated by the 2008 bond to maintain the current tax rate of 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. A house assessed at $300,000 would be taxed $120 per year, or $9.99 per month.
Enrollment in decline
The earlier bond was passed amid talk of a classroom shortage, as enrollment had swelled to nearly 90,000 students. Since then, PCC has built out a number of its campuses and the mini-campus in Newberg.
However, enrollment has dropped to 75,000 students.
"We're slowly declining, but nothing that any of us are worried about," Kelley said. Typically, community college enrollment declines when the economy is good and increases in times of recession.
If the bond passes, PCC does plan to replace two Portland buildings — Metro Center on Killingsworth Avenue and the security building on the Cascade campus — and renovate another, the aging health and technology building on the Sylvania campus in Tigard.
The bond also would be used to fund energy efficiency, safety and security upgrades, as well as improvements to better accommodate disabled people as and transit, officials say.
PCC officials say the 2008 bond was a huge success. It "employed hundreds of people who would not have been employed during the recession," Kelley said.
One promise made in 2008 that wasn't fulfilled was to set up a mini-campus in Columbia County. Kelley concedes it never happened due to some planning issues, but said PCC is now in negotiations to purchase property and has expanded plans so it will be more useful than the previous vision, with a focus on manufacturing.
Another problem was the $7.2 million Newberg campus, where a new roof that had been intended to last decades rotted after three years. The cost of replacement? More than $3.5 million — and some say significantly more — for a roof that lacks the energy-saving performance that was promised.
A 2012 memo written by Tim Donahue, the then-PCC facilities manager, said poor oversight by the bond program led directly to the fiasco, including a failure to use independent building inspectors, a standard industry practice.
Kelley at first dismissed Donahue's criticism as one of "various opinions." She noted that the college recently won arbitration with the contractor on the building and will be reimbursed $2.75 million — a significant portion of the money spent.
"I believe the bond has done an outstanding job of oversight," she said. She noted a new community advisory board would allow the public some input into the bond program.