Policymakers, educators, community members, and businesspeople mingled Thursday with students and staff at Fresno’s newest college campus, the West Fresno Center, to celebrate the opening of a new automotive repair training facility that rounds out phase 1 of the center’s construction.
The ceremonial ribbon-cutting was the second in less than a year at the site in southwest Fresno. An “unofficial” ribbon-cutting was held last summer to herald the opening of the center’s academic building in time for fall classes.
The Advanced Transportation Center —said to be the largest vehicle repair training facility west of the Mississippi River — was completed and opened to its first classes this month.
Other career technical education programs, such as automotive collision, welding, and warehouse logistics, will be added later.
Providing College Classes in West Fresno
The West Fresno Center is operated as a satellite campus of Fresno City College, and college President Robert Pimentel acknowledged that the $86.5 million campus is still a work in progress.
“Today was the first day that we had our fountain on,” he said, referring to the large fountain on the plaza in front of the Academic Building. “It probably won’t stay on, but we had it on for today for you to see it. There’s still some artwork that needs to happen out there, on that site.”
The inclusion of artwork, a water fountain, and a walking trail with exercise stations was intended to make the West Fresno center a jewel in a part of Fresno that has been long overlooked, officials said.
And, the campus isn’t just for the students at Gaston Middle next door or nearby Edison High to aspire to, but also for adults in the community who are ready to continue their academic career or get job training.
The majority of the 1,000 students enrolled in the first year are from ZIP codes in the center’s vicinity, Pimentel said.
He and others continued to hammer on the same message that appears in the Academic Building: “You Belong Here.”
Don’t Stop at Phase 1
Mary Curry, a longtime community activist and former Fresno Unified School Board member, said that Thursday’s ceremony marking the completion of the Advanced Transportation Center “makes my heart happy.” Curry said it’s proof of what can happen when a community pushes hard for something.
Funding for the campus came from $70 million through a State Center bond measure and $16.5 million that the city of Fresno directed from the Transformative Climate Community program, which assists disadvantaged communities with neighborhood projects.
It has taken years of pressure and activism, but southwest Fresno is seeing some results, like the closing of the Darling rendering plant and opening of the college campus, Curry said.
She called on younger generations to take up the cause of working to improve their community.
“I want us to understand that we need to encourage our children, our young people, our neighbors, to get involved,” she said. ” … I want us to work now, to look at phase 2. This is phase 1, praise the Lord for it. Phase 1 is complete, thanks to all of you.”
Phase 2 is not yet on the drawing board, however. Pimentel said that the college and district are in discussions about what the next phase will hold, but no plans have been developed.
The community’s input will be sought on what phase 2 might entail, spokeswoman Kathy Bonilla said.