The long-awaited college campus project for southwest Fresno will take a big step forward on Tuesday when State Center Community College District trustees consider awarding a $66 million construction contract to Harris Construction Company, Inc. of Fresno.
Harris’ bid was the lowest of four submitted under the project-labor agreement format in which the contractor agrees to use union laborers for most jobs. State Center’s agreement also gives hiring priority for construction trades jobs to State Center-trained apprentices and graduates and for subcontracting jobs to businesses owned by State Center graduates.
Critics of project-labor agreements have contended that such agreements can drive up the cost of projects, but that apparently is not the case for the West Fresno Campus, which was forecast in March to cost $66 million when the trustees approved it. Earlier this year Fresno Unified School District’s project-labor agreement to build the Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School came in under the district’s construction estimate.
Phase 1 of the West Fresno Campus project totals $86.5 million, of which $66 million is the portion covered by the project-labor agreement.
Board vice president Annalisa Perea, whose Area 5 seat includes a portion of southwest Fresno, on Monday called the construction contract award “a really exciting milestone.”
The new campus represents a much-needed investment in the west Fresno community, which Perea said has long been neglected.
The low bid was the budgeted amount, and the project-labor agreement will mean jobs for State Center students and graduates, “which helps us to achieve our mission of putting students first,” she said.
Perea said she hopes that the campus will help attract other development to the area, helping its economy to grow “without the gentrification that comes with increased investments.”
Trustee Eric Payne, whose Area 2 encompasses most of west and southwest Fresno, was born and raised in the area, swam in Edison High School’s pool during hot summer months as a teen, and tried to avoid the dreaded “U neighborhood gang.” The gang’s hangout is now the site of Gaston Middle School, across the street from where the new college campus will be built.
The West Fresno Campus “will be a new beacon of hope for a community that has been saturated in poverty and gun violence,” Payne said. Residents will have easy access to books, professors, and classes that will provide “endless opportunities that await them just around the corner.”
Bond Measures, State Dollars
Funding for the project comes from the district’s Measures A and C and also the state’s Strategic Growth Council, which allocated $70 million to the city of Fresno for a Transformative Climate Community grant. The city is funneling $16.5 million of the grant to the West Fresno campus project to help the campus become “a community hub of activity and education.”
The West Fresno Campus will include the automotive technology and automotive collision programs from the Fresno City College and Career and Technology Center campuses and the Fresno City medical assistant program. The campus also will offer general education courses, including associate degrees for transfer to four-year institutions.
The campus, to be built at the southwest corner of Church and Walnut avenues, will open for business with a two-story, 32,000-square-foot classroom building containing a science lab, library, administrative spaces, two large group areas, and a one-story, 75,000-square-foot automotive technology facility with 64 auto bays, six classrooms, and a large yard.
The construction contract also includes underground utilities, parking, landscaping, and a “walk-under water feature.”
Classes Could Start Spring 2023
District spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz said classes at the West Fresno Campus would be open to students from all over the district. Initial enrollment is projected at 2,000 to 2,500 students, she said.
The project is scheduled for completion by summer 2022, with the first classes slated for spring 2023, barring any delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruiz said.
The State Center trustees meeting, which is being held by videoconference because of coronavirus restrictions, starts at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.