The Alamo Colleges board moved not to vote on the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) recommended by the district’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) at its Dec. 6 committee of the whole meeting. The board deferred an action on the recommendations until further discussion with the presidents of the various Alamo Colleges could be pursued.

After reviewing the proposed projects and touring the facilities, the CAC made several changes to the budgets as well as the schedule for the $450 million bond that the district plans to put before Bexar County voters in May 2017.

Their changes, Committee Chair Gloria Ray explained, were an effort to balance growth with maintenance. Growth through the outer regions of the county must not be pursued at the expense of the institutions in the city’s core.

Primarily, Ray spoke of St. Philip’s College. She spoke for the committee expressing “heartfelt, unanimous concern for the dire conditions” at the Eastside campus.

While the committee did find almost all projects deserved a place on the CIP, there was unanimous agreement that St. Philip’s should take priority.

“It’s not that the rest of the colleges don’t need work,” said Committee Vice-Chair Luis Vera. “The question is whether we take care of what really needs to be fixed first.” 

Ray called the conditions at the Bowden building and the campus center a “district disgrace.” The CAC recommended complete demolition and new construction of those buildings, which the committee deemed “beyond rehabilitation.”

St. Philip’s President Adena Loston supported these recommendations, even though it would mean reductions to other projects. Even on her own campus, which would see a considerable increase under the CAC recommendations, decisions had to be made as to which buildings to address.

“There’s never enough money,” Loston said. “So you have to make choices.”

Loston’s primary concern lies in the buildings that affect the school’s culinary program. Right now the culinary program has an exemplary rating from the American Culinary Institute, and substandard facilities could compromise that. 

“Once you lose (that exemplary status), it’s hard to get that back. It took us 17 years to get that (status) the first time,” Loston said.

Currently the facilities in St. Philip’s auto repair and welding facilities are preventing theschool from expanding accredited workforce development programs. In the last year there have been two fires in the welding facility due to cramped and unsafe conditions.

“Everything you touch out there is asbestos and led-based,” Loston said.

Alamo Colleges Associate Vice-Chancellor of Facilities Operation and Construction Management John Strybos presented the final recommendations, which involved reductions in allocations for expansion at the other Alamo Colleges. The recommended budget gave more money to the workforce development initiatives, including the Westside Education and Training Center and the forthcoming Southside Education and Training Center.

The recommendations included a timeline, which prioritized workforce and city center facilities, delaying real estate procurement and expansion projects for later years of the bond cycle, which would extend to 2021.

“I have a concern about waiting until 2021 to purchase land on the Northside,” Alamo Colleges Board Chair Yvonne Katz said, expressing concerns about rising costs and the risk of losing out on Northside real estate opportunities altogether in the fast-growing region.

Trustee Denver McClendon (D2) expressed more sweeping concerns about the changes made by the CAC.

“Whatever we do it’s our taxpayers that (are) paying for this system. I look at your presentation and it’s somewhat of a deviation from what we (anticipated),” McClendon said.

The college presidents gave initial reactions to the various proposals at the meeting. All but Loston expressed concerns about their reduced share of the bond, and said they needed more time to consider the implications.

“I don’t have facilities to serve my population,” Northwest Vista College President Ric Baser said.

Northwest Vista is located in a rapidly growing part of town and is itself pressed for space already, Baser said.

Several board members pitched ideas to find more money within the bond proposal.

Brick and mortar is an expensive way to expand, and may not be the way of the future, said Trustee James Rindfuss (D9).

“What have we done to make sure that we’ve done some studies on (online college courses)?” Rindfuss asked.

Strybos assured the board that $25 million had been set aside for online course development and would be included in the technology portion of the budget. That did not, however, reduce the needs for brick and mortar expansion. The board agreed that online and campus students are different populations and that one would not replace the other.

McClendon also asked if more money could be added to the bond proposal.

Diane Snyder, Vice-chancellor for Finance and Administration, said that an increase was impossible without raising the tax rate.

“It’s tight at $450 million,” Snyder said.

Ultimately, the board felt that it needed significantly more time to consider the recommendations in light of demographic needs and regional balance of the committee’s recommendations.

“When we go out to the public with this, if it’s not balanced, we’re going to have some issues,” Trustee Roberto Zarate (D5) said.

Trustee Clint Kingsbery (D8) reminded the board that the CAC is part of the process of going to the public, and urged the board to respect its recommendations.

Ray applauded her colleagues on the CAC, and commended their diligence in achieving the recommendations.

“I commend this CAC as the most engaged and the most dedicated of any CAC I have had the pleasure to serve with,” she said.

The board decided that the CAC would move to the full board meeting agenda to allow for intensive dialogue among board members and college presidents. Katz urged Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie to “as we say, cuss and discuss” the recommendations, adding that these decisions are never easy.

The board has until February at the latest to vote to take the bond before voters in May.

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.