Article - Office of College Advancement

Aging facilities take toll on Ohlone

Plans to renovate Fremont campus up in the air

By Todd R. Brown, Staff writer.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—In a classroom at Ohlone College, a row of tall, state-of-the-art, panel-screen iMacs share space with a globe showing a tiny, yellow East Germany and big, green USSR, making the orb at least as old as an incoming 18-year-old student.

The contrast underscores a serious dilemma: how to renew the aging hillside campus after building a bond-funded, $118 million technology center in Newark while facing massive education-spending cuts.

Ohlone College staff and trustees recently took a look at the sorry state of the old Mission Boulevard campus. But the question of what to do about it is hard to answer, given the state's equally sad financial shape.

In a fantasy world, officials might wave a wand and go back in time to tell their predecessors to do the job right, conjuring a fairy-tale castle on a hill that embraced a stunning view of the Bay and natural sunlight.

Classrooms would have healthy airflow, ergonomic chairs and fire extinguishers instead of what they now have: poor circulation, banged-up seats and high-pressure fire hoses that require special training lest the operator whack himself with the brass nozzle.

"It's not very inspiring," said Lucky Lofton, Ohlone's director of facilities.

He led trustees last week on a tour of campus shortcomings, including a cracked sewer line under a parking lot above the Smith Center that forces people in a nearby building to use a portable toilet.

Brown splotches on classroom ceiling panels indicate leaky pipes, and chalk dust hovers in the air and coats bland carpeting under the blackboards.

"You don't want to spend a lot of time in this classroom," President/Superintendent Douglas Treadway said.

Some rooms have no windows and hardly any circulation, while others face a daytime glare so distracting that heavy curtains block out the sun—as if the architect designed the buildings in spite of the geography, rather than in concordwith it.

A chemistry lab is a dead-ringer for a version familiar to those attending high school 20 years ago, although corroded water pipes and gas valves show time's toll on the nostalgic equipment.

A pottery studio is challenging to navigate with all the sculpting devices and stacked-to-the-ceiling supplies, while the scent of clay dust wafts throughout, raising breathing health concerns.

In a biology lab, two fans that can clear the air in six minutes were installed in the wall after years of stuffiness, but Linda Evers, science laboratory coordinator, said they are so noisy, they can't be run during class.

"There's always some odor," she said. "There's termites in the cabinets. It gets down to 53 degrees in here (with the air conditioning). The kids are in shorts, shivering. We love our classes, but the classrooms …"

And then there is the baseball field that doesn't drain properly, can't be used for intramural fun, and which requires too much maintenance on top of league play wear.

Board President Garrett Yee said later that he wishes he could turn back the clock and redo the campus, which opened in 1974, from the ground up.

While that is a shimmering ideal, effecting a true renewal is a hard sell.

"Over time, we'd sure like to rebuild most of this campus up here," said Mike Calegari, vice president of administrative services. "We're not going to stop looking for ways to upgrade."

He said the options are to get state funding, a lengthy process that would pit Ohlone against other needy colleges; issue a bond with a 15- to 30-year repayment plan; or create a public-private partnership, such as the stalled frontage development plan.

"That was disappointing for me personally," Calegari said, noting that the last round of proposals—just two, both rejected by staff and the board—lacked a sufficient revenue promise.

While officials sort the matter out, students seem to keep their spirits up, and teachers appear equally inspired to be part of the Ohlone community.

"It's very collegial," Calegari said. "Enrollment is robust, students are very friendly and dedicated."

He is in the same boat, by the way, in an office in the "bowels" of the administration building, with no windows and with air conditioning that works when it's not supposed to and vice versa.

"Where do you want me to go?" he chuckled. "You adapt. We're trying to deal with these issues."

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