After a lengthy conversation, with many questions answered and many not, the Santa Clarita Community College District, which administers College of the Canyons, voted 3-1 to approve approximately $2.8 million for two contracts as part of the early planning for a new affordable student housing project.
The board of trustees voted Wednesday night to approve a contract with Westberg White Architects for $2,763,940 and a second contract for $38,640 with Michael Baker International to complete an environmental analysis, which would then be submitted for state approval.
“My last comment is why wouldn’t we explore this?” said Chuck Lyons, member of the board of trustees. “When it’s not costing us $1. If somebody’s paying for it and it’s not coming out of College of the Canyons money, and the state has offered the money to us because they want to house students.”
Westberg White Architects will be tasked with creating preliminary concepts for the board of trustees to consider within the next two to three months. During that process, COC will conduct numerous sessions with stakeholders to then provide further input to the architect’s concepts for the building.
In 2022, the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program, Assembly BIll 183, was passed, and approved funding allocations for community college affordable housing projects. According to Jim Schrage, assistant superintendent/vice president of facilities, planning, operating and construction for the district, COC applied for that state grant and received an allocation of $62 million.
This affordable housing project would prioritize the needs of low-income, disproportionately impacted students who would benefit from affordable housing to help those students to focus on their education.
According to COC, the $62 million grant will be used for planning, construction, furnishing and equipping of the project, which would include 100 bedrooms, lobbies, study spaces, lounges, a gaming room, offices, laundry facilities and a student support space.
However, staff indicated that the final design of the project could see significant changes as COC gathers input from stakeholders including students, community members, faculty and more.
COC staff indicated the project would be a three-story building located on the Valencia campus, adjacent to parking lot No. 6 at the corner of Valencia Boulevard and Rockwell Canyon Road.
The one-time grant will be distributed in two parts. COC was awarded its first allocation of approximately $23 million earlier this year, and the second distribution will be during the 2023-24 fiscal year.
The $2.8 million expenditure for the architectural and environmental analysis contracts will come out of the $62 million grant, and the district would not need to reimburse or return the money, if the project is deemed infeasible.
Three members of the public voiced their concerns about the project and expressed their opposition to it. They had concerns about the architect company and how student housing would change the culture of COC.
The board of trustees had their concerns, and a lot of questions that COC staff did their best to answer. Alonso Edel, president of the board of trustees, said she fully supported the project, but her concern was the ongoing costs it would take to run the affordable student housing project – security, maintenance, utilities, etc.
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 been available made it difficult to support and “feel confident in the financial viability of the project.”
MacGregor was the lone “no” vote on the item.
Ultimately, the board of trustees voted to approve the contracts and to hire Westberg White Architects and Michael Baker International. The architecture firm will begin the process of creating concepts for the building and the board of trustees will consider them at a future date.