Cuesta College’s plan to build a new education center in the South County has stalled after an agreement could not be reached with the owner of the potential Grover Beach site.
On Wednesday, the college’s Board of Trustees agreed to eliminate as an option the Grover Beach industrial park initially identified as the future center’s location and to search for a new site.
Cuesta College President Gil Stork said the search will begin immediately and continue until the right location at the right price is found.
“We don’t have a timeline on when we might have a new agreement, but we have a commitment to move forward,” Stork said. “We have a group of donors who basically have said ‘All right, that option is off the table — what’s next?’ ”
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The Cuesta College Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the college, has committed to raising the necessary $1.2 million — with more than $750,000 in pledges already committed by donors.
Those benefactors have agreed to keep their pledges in place while an alternative site is found, Stork said.
“While the outcome of this is disappointing, it has also shown the strong support for a South County education center,” he said.
The project was originally planned for 998 Huston St. in Grover Beach. The site’s owner and developer, S&S Homes, had verbally committed to spending up to $900,000 on redeveloping the former warehouse into classrooms.
Cuesta College officials had been in discussion with S&S Homes since June, but this week, the college was notified it would have to come up with an additional $60,000 annually and pay back some of the cost of readying the warehouse to make it work.
“We just can’t do that,” Stork said. “From the beginning, I have said the only way this would move forward is if it is cost neutral to our current location, and that was no longer the case.”
The desire to build a new education center in the South County has been a part of the college’s plan for decades.
It currently leases classrooms at night from Lucia Mar Unified School District, paying up to $145,000 a year for space at the district’s high schools in Arroyo Grande and Nipomo.
“Right now is a good time to take advantage of what’s out there and grab a new site,” said Roxanne Carr, who participated in the fundraising efforts. “We’ve not lost the enthusiasm dedicated to this.”
In a sampling of 380 student opinions, 98 percent of students thought it was important to have a South County Education Center. But one faculty member expressed his opposition, saying that the financial risk now is too great.
“My concern is that Cuesta doesn’t have a secure enough financial base to take on the project,” Peter Dill said. “Having a financial bond to stand behind would make the timing right.”
This week, Stork formed the President’s South County Community Council, a group comprising members from the foundation’s fundraising committee and prominent community donors and volunteers to actively seek alternative locations in the South County.
The council includes local volunteers Ken Levine, Gracia Bello, Carr, Charlie Cabassi, Jacqueline Frederick, Mike Frederick, Doug Hilton, Vard Ikeda, Howard Mankins, Mike Miner, Carroll Pruett, Rob Strong, Iris Swisher and Anita Robinson.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.