Cuesta College is embarking on a long-desired, ambitious effort to build a new education center in Grover Beach to serve South County students — and replace the limited classroom space it now leases from the Lucia Mar Unified School District.
But first, the Cuesta College Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the college, must decide in two weeks whether it can raise the $1.2 million needed.
The board of trustees will consider the project March 9. If approved, a lease agreement will be signed for 998 Huston St. in Grover Beach with a target opening of fall 2012.
The venture comes as the college struggles to repair its accreditation and looming state budget cuts prompt the college to reprioritize the services it offers.
Cuesta College President Gil Stork said the college’s primary focus will remain on accreditation. The costs of the new project will be shouldered by the property owner and the college foundation — not from funds already dedicated to ongoing services, he said.
Barbara George, interim executive director of Cuesta College Foundation, said $100,000 in pledges has been raised. Additional donations are being solicited in coming weeks, and the campaign committee will hold a meeting later this month to determine whether the $1.2 million goal is possible, George said.
In addition, the developer of the site, S&S Homes, has committed to spending up to $900,000 on redeveloping the former Arizona Stone warehouse into classrooms, Stork said.
South County students, about 1,400 annually, have limited access to classes, technology and other support services because of inadequate space.
Cuesta now partners with Lucia Mar — paying up to $145,000 a year — to use classrooms at the district’s high schools in Arroyo Grande and Nipomo.
If Cuesta’s campaign is successful, it will affect the Lucia Mar school district’s finances. The money Lucia Mar receives from Cuesta goes into the district’s general fund, which is used for several things, including teacher and staff salaries.
Lucia Mar received $145,000 in the 2008-09 fiscal year, which dropped to $123,743 the following year, said Kevin Baker, director of the facilities and maintenance department. So far this fiscal year that began July 1, Lucia Mar has collected about $62,500.
“It’s a bit of a hit to us and will be an important issue to look at during these fiscally hard times,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The district has been providing space to Cuesta for about five years. Cuesta uses two to four classrooms at Nipomo High School and about 25 classrooms at Arroyo Grande High.
Plans for the new education center include a long-term lease that Cuesta officials say will give the college greater certainty of future rental costs and the possibility of expansion in the future. The long-term lease will cost no more than what it is paying to Lucia Mar.
The planned 13,000 square feet of space in an industrial park will be used for classrooms, offices, a computer lab, a learning resource center and student support services.
Student enrollment could potentially grow from 700 students a semester to 1,200 students once additional classes are added during the day.
Stork said accreditation standards require that comparable access to services and technology be offered at all sites where classes are held.
The new center, he said, would bring South County classrooms on par with those in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles.
Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce President Linda Garcia said the potential relocation of the college to Grover Beach would benefit the small city.
“It will bring more people to the area and make them aware of where we are,” she said. “Grover Beach has been taking huge steps to be put on the map for its quality of life, and this will help do that even more.”
Stork said the college has been in discussion with the property owner since June and that the concept for a standalone educational center was advocated by the original board of trustees in the 1960s.
“The pivotal point now is if the foundation can raise enough money to where they feel confident moving forward,” Stork said.
George said despite the troubled economy and the college’s recent struggles, donors are expected to support the project. “They are well informed about what I call ‘troubling occurrences and developments’ and see through it to the talented faculty and staff and their support toward student success.”
“The board and our South County campaign committees are pretty excited about the potential of an education center in their community and want to see it happen,” George added. “It means greater access in many underserved pockets; it means a brighter future for educational opportunity.”