Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC) will pursue an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with The Dalles and Wasco County for $3.5 million in enterprise zone funds and proceed with a $7.6 million full faith and credit bond for construction of a skill center and housing project at The Dalles campus following a unanimous vote by the Board of Education at its January board meeting.
“Sometimes we have to gamble. It’s a risk, but it’s a calculated risk,” said CGCC president Dr. Marta Cronin, expressing her support of the program.
“If we can afford this, I feel we have a responsibility to do it,” said board member Kevin McCabe. “But that is my question; can we afford it?”
Dan Spatz, who presented the project to the board and has been involved since its conception, said it was hard to pin down additional funds before the board actually committed to the project. “First you have the program, then you have the facility, then you can pursue actual donations and funding,” he said.
The need for the project is there, said Cronin. “There are so many educational opportunities here, but we are limited on space. And housing is a problem,” added Cronin. “If you are going to have a destination college, you need innovative programs with job opportunities.”
Like most of the board, Lee Fairchild voiced his interest, and his concern. “I like the vision, particularly the skill center. I would love this project. But I would hate to have this project be such a financial yoke on the college that it drags down our other programs or brings the college to bankruptcy,” he said.
Dana Campbell agreed, saying “I’m very nervous about our sticking our necks out. The college is being asked to put up a lot of dollars for this.”
Spatz agreed there was a risk, but mostly during construction. “We do have a cash flow problem,” Spatz said. “I have verbal support from a public entity to arrange bridge funding of $338,000 for the three years of construction,” he said, adding that no official agreement could be made until the college had already committed to the projects.
At the Jan. 14 meeting of The Dalles city council, Spatz told the council he was working toward an agreement with the Port of The Dalles to help provide bridge funding during the construction phase of the project.
McCabe said bridge funding would relieve some of his concerns, adding that they couldn’t look at only the risk. “Right now everyone is expecting the college to take a lead. We need to see this as not just a risk, but as an opportunity to lead.”
David Griffith, owner of Griffith Motors and a member of Columbia Gorge Regional Airport board, testified before the board that there was risk in any venture. “All my life I’ve been self employed, and that has always meant risk. I signed paperwork for a new building on Sept. 11, 2001, and that was a risk. I’ve always managed to make it. You have a tremendous opportunity in aviation, and now is the time — there is a tremendous need and a real opportunity here.”
Over the past decade, two constraints on economic growth in the region have been repeatedly identified by industry leaders and public officials, said Spatz during introductory remarks before the board. First, much of the region’s labor force lacks the skills needed to secure family-wage jobs. “When our region does not meet this challenge, businesses recruit skilled employees from outside adding to the cost of doing business and prompting the additional challenge of employee retention,” Spatz said.
Nearly a thousand students emerge from the region’s high schools each year, and many graduates leave the region to attend university or trades training programs which are not available locally. About one third of local graduates attend CGCC, which also sees enrollment from the incumbent workforce, Spatz said, but many do not have the resources to relocate in search of training; they stay close to home, rely upon minimum wage employment, and often work multiple part-time jobs.
“Loss of career-technical training in high schools over the past 30 years leaves these students ill-equipped to enter family-wage employment, even as employers are continually seeking skilled labor,” Spatz told the board.
A “flagship” program of aviation mechanics is proposed to anchor the facility, and that program would begin immediately, Spatz said. “Aerospace is the region’s largest employment sector,” he explained. “Strong encouragement to an aviation maintenance program is supported by senior staff of the aviation division of the Bonneville Power Administration.” In the past, with the development of the CGCC’s nursing and wind programs, industry has stepped up to contribute to the programs, but not before those programs were already up and running. “We expect that to be the case with aviation maintenance as well,” Spatz said.
This program will encompass fixed wing, helicopters and UAV technologies. The college is well-placed to initiate aviation maintenance instruction: one of four FAA-certified UAV test ranges is located nearby, as well as two airports, Spatz said. FAA-accredited training curricula are already available.
A second constraint is the region’s high cost of housing, especially for employees whose incomes exceed federal criteria for subsidized housing but are not sufficient to secure housing in a region increasingly dominated by second homes and vacation rentals, Spatz said. “This also affects students seeking higher education in our region,” he added.
In proposing the Treaty Oak Skills Center and campus housing, CGCC seeks to help address both the skills mismatch and the lack of affordable housing, Spatz said.
The proposed skill center will be approximately 24,000 square feet, located immediately north of the college access road and facing, to the east, the Fort Dalles Readiness Center. The center would have a large, high-bay, central training area with gantry crane. There would be smaller bays assigned to specific skills. Much of the training equipment would be movable, allowing flexible use of all areas. “The skill center concept is designed not with any specific trade in mind, because the demand for any particular skill will change through time, but rather as flexible space to accommodate the ever-changing needs of industry,” Spatz told the board.
In addition, there would also be two classrooms, a computer room for CAD design, and a presentation “conference room,” where students would describe their projects in a professional setting.
For student housing, 72 units of campus housing are proposed, a mix of 18 “quad” units of four bedrooms each and seven studio apartments, two of which would be reserved for resident managers. Each quad would share two bathrooms, a kitchen and common study area. Studio apartments would be self-contained. This building would be located to the east of the Health Sciences Building, along the college access road.
Only a single phase of housing is proposed using current funding, Spatz noted.
The combined value of the skill center and campus housing is $14.6 million. Of this, the state’s contribution is $7.3 million, which will be available upon sale of state bonds in late April or May, 2019, Spatz said.
The non-state contribution of $7.3 million would come, immediately, from a full faith and credit obligation of the college; the total amount would be $7.6 million including costs of borrowing. Anticipated interest rate is four percent or less.
The deadline to provide assurance of match to the state is Feb. 11, and the college would need to sign a bond purchase agreement no later than Jan. 28. The college incurs no obligation to proceed with the project until that bond purchase agreement is signed.
Of the $7.3 million match, The Dalles City Council and Wasco County Commission have committed to fund $3.5 million through a forgivable loan, to be drawn from economic development funds. On Monday, Jan. 14, The Dalles City Council voted unanimously to approve an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) committing enterprise zone funds to the project. The Wasco County commission was scheduled to consider the agreement at its regular session 10:15 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 16.
“As presently drafted, these terms call for three annual payments of $1 million each, and a fourth payment of $500,000, commencing upon project completion,” Spatz said.
The college would be responsible for long-term financing of the remaining $3.8 million.
No general obligation bond would be sought, so the projects would have no impact on local taxes, Spatz added.