Community colleges wrap up bond projects 

Three ribbon cuttings scheduled for later this month — including at the new planetarium at the College of San Mateo and the student union and science annex at Skyline College — mark the most significant milestones yet in the San Mateo Community College District’s multiyear makeover plan, officials said.

The district is wrapping up construction on five of six major projects funded by an initial bond package of $207 million approved by voters in 2001. The sixth project, Cañada College’s 75,900-square-foot, $31.7 million library, is scheduled to open inJuly or August, according to district spokeswoman Barbara Christensen.

Already in service is a 9,000-square-foot police academy training center and a 55,000-square-foot science building at the CSM, officials said.

The renovations are part of the district’s broader $675 million reconstruction effort aimed at modernization, Christensen said. Some buildings on the district’s oldest campus, the College of San Mateo, haven’t seen a major upgrade for 40 years, she said.

"Buildings get to a point where they reach the end of their useful life, especially with all the computer infrastructure needs of today," Christensen said.

The district has completed about $208 million in construction so far, officials said. With the completion of the six flagship projects nearing, the district has begun spending from a second $486 million bond package approved in 2005, much of it going for landscape, classrooms and other facility upgrades, officials said.

Construction is slated to continue through 2010 or 2011, Christensen said.

"The facilities improvement that we’re undertaking on our campuses now rival in scope the complexity of the original construction of the three college campuses," district Chancellor Ron Galatolo said.

Even while the district spends millions to replace aging facilities on three campuses, it is the less obvious "smart classrooms" that he and many other students appreciate most, according to senior Harry Simms.

A life science and pre-nursing major who will graduate in May, Simms, 28, has seen the science classrooms at the College of San Mateo dramatically improve over his four-year tenure.

"The difference is just awesome," said Simms, president of Associated Students of College of San Mateo.

From computer portals to wireless Internet access and drop-down overhead projectors, the classroom makeovers undertaken in many departments are a vital step forward for the district, he said.

The district in recent years has redoubled its focus on community needs, stepping up to jointly fund the much-needed police academy, operated with the South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Consortium, and expanding its nursing program to respond to a health care worker shortage, said Helen Hausman, president of the college district board of trustees.

Coast targeted for more classes

The growing popularity of community college classes on the coast has the district looking to expand its offerings.

Up until now, the district has held afternoon and night classes in high schools and middle schools, but officials have now secured space for five dedicated classrooms, district Chancelor Don Galatolo told trustees last month.

While not part of the

district’s capital improvement initiative, the announcement is more proof the district is constantly trying to adapt to the needs of local residents needs, officials said. "Because the [enrollment] has been pretty good, we’re planning to rent some space and to see if we can grow the program bigger," according to spokeswoman Barbara Christensen.

From 67 students in fall 2005 the program grew to 206 in fall 2006, district records show.

Having its own classrooms will allow the district to hold classes throughout the day, rather than being limited to after-school hours as was the case prior, Christensen said.

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