When the West Fresno campus opens Monday for its first classes, students will find a large red sign prominently displayed in the Academic Building that proclaims “You Belong Here.”
That message is one that officials of State Center Community College District, Fresno City College, the city of Fresno, and local educators and other officials want to make sure is heard by the families of West Fresno, an economically challenged area that has long been overlooked and neglected.
Local leaders said Friday during a ceremony at the Church Avenue center that the new $87.1 million campus is an important milestone in West Fresno’s turnaround. Having a center for higher education within the community will provide hope and inspiration to residents, many of whom might not have considered attending college but will be convinced to give it a try, they said.
Watch: Take a Tour of the New Fresno City College West Campus
Of the 1,000 students already enrolled for classes, the biggest group is coming from Edison High School, followed by Washington Union High School, officials said Friday.
Serving West Fresno
The campus center, a satellite of Fresno City College, represents the culmination of a long-held dream of community leaders like Mary Curry who toured the Academic Building on Friday and then spoke about its importance.
Curry talked about arriving in West Fresno in 1956 with a 6-week-old son who would become the oldest of her five children. The community was still thriving but already starting to struggle, she said. Over the years the deterioration would worsen, and West Fresno would become immersed in industrial operations that other neighborhoods would not have tolerated, she said.
It took continued opposition by the community for more than a decade to force the closure of the Darling rendering plant, which will cease operations in December, Curry said.
“I’m happy to say today that we have seen a resurgence of good things coming to West Fresno. So if you’re patient and willing to work hard, things can change,” she said. “It takes time. It takes commitment.”
Officials had promised that the West Fresno campus center would be ready by the fall 2023 semester, but only the Academic Building will be open on Monday. Work on the Advanced Automotive Center is continuing, but classes will begin there in the next semester, State Center Chancellor Carole Goldsmith said.
The Advanced Transportation Center, said to be the biggest automotive technician training center west of the Mississippi River, likely will attract students from across Fresno and not just the West Fresno neighborhood, she said.
And the two buildings are just the beginning of what officials hope will be an expanded campus center with more academic offerings, Goldsmith said.
Efforts to build the West Fresno center came over steady opposition from prior State Center boards who didn’t want it included in master plans, from former chancellors, and from faculty members who called the westside a “crime and gang-infested” area where they would not want to teach, said City Councilman Miguel Arias, who formerly served on the State Center board.
“Yes, their ignorance was jaw-dropping. They felt that they had the privilege to demand that we only build colleges where they lived and where they wanted to teach, not where the greatest need for public education was,” he said.
Mayor Jerry Dyer noted that the “You Belong Here” sign should be accompanied by another that says “Forgotten No More.”
“Because this is the beginning of a renaissance for West Fresno. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning,” he said. “And I know without a doubt that there’s going to be so much more progress made in West Fresno over the next few years because of this campus being here.
“It is a magnet. It’s a magnet for housing, it is a magnet for development. It is a magnet to bring in students from all over Fresno to come and experience this new campus. And it is transformational. And that’s what makes it so exciting.”
According to Fresno City College data, that’s already happening. In addition to nearby Edison and Washington Union high schools, graduates from Roosevelt, Sunnyside, Central High East and West, McLane, Hoover, and Bullard have enrolled in classes at the new campus.
Construction on the satellite campus began three years ago in a dusty field in west Fresno to much fanfare, especially by west Fresno leaders who noted that the addition of job training and college classes located within the community would be a “game-changer.”
State Center’s Expansion
The West Fresno Center is Fresno City College’s first neighborhood academic center. State Center also is building a First Responders Center where police, fire, and emergency medical technicians will be trained instead of in their current quarters on the crowded Fresno City campus in central Fresno.
Meanwhile, Reedley College held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday for its new Center for Early Childhood & Education.
All the investments are due largely to the support of taxpayers who have consistently approved bond measures to give State Center funds for facilities, Goldsmith said.
Construction of the $46 million First Responders Center at North and Willow avenues southeast of Fresno is nearly complete. The Police Academy has moved to the new center and the first cohort started in July, college spokeswoman Cris Monahan Bremer said.
The Fire Academy has not yet moved from the Fresno City campus to the new center, she said.
Some work remains to be completed, such as landscaping, she said.