If it's not broken, why fix it? It's a question one might ask on a tour of Canada Community College, a 100-acre campus located along Farm Hill Boulevard in Woodside.
It's not as if education is not happening at Canada or at the College of San Mateo in San Mateo and Skyline College in San Bruno, the three schools that make up the San Mateo County Community College District. But in the opinion of district officials, the students' physical surroundings at these colleges are not sufficiently reflective of an up-to-date Silicon Valley educational institution.
The campuses are functioning, but in need of capital improvements, says the district's board. The board is asking voters to approve Measure H, a $388 million bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. The funds, according to the ballot language, would go toward "preparing students for universities and high-demand jobs" by modernizing classrooms and labs. That would include seismic retrofitting, improving energy efficiency and upgrading access for the disabled.
Go to this link and turn to Pages 7 and 8 for the complete list of funding priorities.
Three years ago, the district proposed a $564 million bond measure but it failed, missing the necessary 55 percent majority by 1.9 percentage points. For Measure H, which also needs a 55 percent majority to pass, a 2014 community survey by San Mateo-based Godbe Research showed that when informed of the goals for the bond funds, potential voters support a $388 million measure by 74.7 percent.
The survey found the strongest support for a measure that would raise taxes by less than $9 a year per $100,000 of a property's assessed value.
Measure H works out to an annual tax-rate increase of $8.22 per $100,000 of value, district board President Helen Schwarz told the Almanac. The board came to its decision on $388 million after "a lot of hard work with a lot of sharp pencils to determine what was reasonable," she said.
For this story, this reporter toured the campus of Canada College.
Space to move
The college sits high above Interstate 280 and provides 360-degree views of surrounding landscapes, including the western hills and Silicon Valley. Wind and sunshine are plentiful.
The campus used to have a broad "Frisbee" lawn in its center, an area now planted in drought-tolerant vegetation around a courtyard with benches and low walls, and a centrally located food service area, district Chancellor Ron Galatolo said. Students need gathering places, he added. "It's a much more friendly campus."
At Canada, buildings from the late 1960s are interspersed with newer ones. The district isn't planning to replace old buildings, but to remodel two and construct a new one for classes in science, technology, engineering and math, a grouping that educators call STEM.
The old buildings are not obvious until they're pointed out, but open a door and the decades of use become self-evident. Modern buildings have climate control, for example, and their interiors often lack fixed walls, allowing for various configurations and greater "efficiency," Mr. Galatolo said.
There are several buildings on the campus that do not have air conditioning. If the bond measure passes, the funds would pay for a central "chiller" plant to distribute air conditioning, though not every room in every building would get it, Mr. Galatolo said.
Older buildings also inhibit present-day methods of teaching and learning, including the ability to move around in a classroom, Mr. Galatolo said. In the 1960s and 1970s, instruction focused on individual work; students today tend to work in groups and need spaces that can accommodate group activities.
Canada would get about $70 million of the $388 million if Measure H passes, Mr. Galatolo said.
The district would spend $40 million on the new building for STEM classes, which officials said are in high demand. The campus has up-to-date chemistry labs, but not enough of them, said Janet Stringer, dean of the science and technology division.
The building would be designed with the environment in mind. It is district policy to design new buildings to qualify for a green-building rating of gold or platinum, Mr. Galatolo said.
The district would spend $15 million to remodel two 1968-era buildings -- a three-story classroom building and the theater. Neither are air conditioned, both need seismic retrofitting and features to accommodate the disabled, and both have heating systems that came as original equipment.
Plans include spending of $5 million on classroom furniture at Canada, $3 million to $5 million each on campus pavement and a new phone system, and $5 million on renewable and sustainable energy projects. In March, Canada's new photovoltaic array should start producing about 60 percent of the school's electricity, Mr. Galatolo said.
Less than ideal
Earth-science lab classes at Canada take place in an unadorned basement with exposed pipes above, floor space for just 24 students, and a persistent machine-like hum in the background. The same room is used for physics and oceanography classes.
"It's really not even meant to be a lab or classroom space," said Gregory Anderson, Canada's vice president of instruction. "But we would not be able to do what we need to do without this space."
Geology labs at Canada have been held in chemistry labs equipped with ventilation hoods that have no relevance to geology experiments.
On the top floor of one of the two buildings set to be remodeled is a classroom that seats at least 100 students and includes a computer at every desk. The classroom is on the west side of the building and faces the setting sun. Since the building is not air conditioned, and computers and students generate heat, it becomes a problem, particularly for summer classes.
The college installed a roof-mounted air conditioner about 10 years ago, but it's so loud that it drowns out conversation, Mr. Anderson said. The school has a workaround: chill the room before class begins, turn off the air conditioner, and have students dress in layers that can be shed as the room warms up. At the end of class, students tend to be in T-shirts, Mr. Anderson said.
In the health-sciences building is a classroom for Canada's medical-assistant associate degree program. Schools that offer this degree must have spaces that simulate actual medical facilities, Mr. Anderson said.
This otherwise standard classroom includes areas meant to simulate a waiting room, an examination room and an emergency room. The waiting room simulation is a small round table with three or four chairs around it. A few feet away is the emergency room simulation a gurney and a few small pieces of equipment, including a blood pressure monitor. The examination room is evocative of the real thing, but it should have a glass wall so students in the classroom can observe, Mr. Anderson said.
The animation classroom is equipped with recently purchased light tables desks topped by translucent plastic with lights underneath. Light tables are essential to animation in that they allow light to shine through semi-transparent sheets of drawing paper. But the classroom is also used for non-animation classes in which students use the light tables as ordinary desks.