Cuesta College faces $180 million bill for repairs

A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.
A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.

Cuesta College faces a $180 million hurdle in the near future as its aged buildings fall into further disrepair. The college, cash-strapped from enduring years of a rough economy, may turn to taxpayers for help.

In Paso Robles, the college’s North County campus needs four buildings, which could cost more than $80 million. An estimated $100 million in facility repairs and upgrades also are needed at the San Luis Obispo campus, college officials say.

The board of trustees will decide sometime next year how to pay for the needed facilities at both campuses, but one likely option is asking taxpayers to approve a bond.

On Wednesday, trustees will discuss results of a survey done by Oakland-based consultant Lew Edwards Group in October to gauge public support for a bond measure.

College officials have calculated the $180 million cost of upgrades after reviewing the needs at both campuses.

Administrators are updating the North County campus’ facilities master plan for the first time in more than a decade and trustees will review the updated five-year plan in January.

The Paso Robles campus, built 15 years ago, is now operating some vital programs such as public safety and the child care center out of aging modular buildings.

“We can’t exist in those much longer,” Cuesta President Gil Stork said. “The modular buildings, as they get older, will need continual upgrading and improvements and that is just money down the drain.”

The four new buildings at the North County campus being contemplated are a campus center for student services, a trades and technology center, a building with additional classrooms, and an early childhood development center.

The timeline for those buildings is being developed, prioritizing the areas of greatest need, said Terry Reece, director of facility services, planning and capital projects.

“People are saying that we don’t need another four buildings in the next five years,” Reece said. “That is correct. What we are doing is laying the groundwork for what the next four buildings will be.”

At one time, 10 additional buildings were planned for the North County campus.

“The new plan has condensed it from a sprawling, grand campus to a more compact two-story mission rancho-feel,” Reece said. “What the new plan will reveal is a much cozier and fiscally and environmentally smarter campus.”

At the San Luis Obispo campus, the needs are many, officials said. The majority of buildings on that campus are more than 30 years old, built before existing technology. The aging buildings need new roofs, air conditioning and heating. Additional classrooms are also needed for math courses.

Stork said there are three options for making the needed upgrades on both campuses.

The college could seek state bond funding for construction, although often a significant cash match is required and the college does not have it, he said.

The college could also do a campaign to raise funds.

“To generate the kind of money to build all four buildings would be a long, slow process,” Stork said.

Trustees could also attempt to pass a general obligation bond. In May 2012, the trustees, under pressure from the faculty union, considered placing a $100 million bond measure on the November ballot but later voted to wait until 2014 before pursuing it. 

The Cuesta College Board of Trustees will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Associated Students Auditorium, Room 5401, at the San Luis Obispo campus.