System shock – Sierra College campuses cope with Measure E’s failure
Visitors walking past a pond on the Sierra College’s Nevada County campus are greeted by four clay heads, buried to their noses in the ground.
For students, teachers and other backers of the college system’s $384 million bond proposal, the statues might represent voters who had their heads in the sand when they shot down the plan, called Measure E, on Tuesday.
To those who believe the bond was an unnecessary grab at the wallets of property owners, the presence of the heads poking out of the ground might symbolize that cooler heads prevailed.
Voters may have settled the debate over Measure E in Tuesday’s primary election, but bond supporters and instructors at the Nevada County campus vowed Wednesday they will continue the fight for money to expand their campus despite Tuesday’s setback.
With unofficial tallies from Nevada, Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties, just over 49 percent of 119,705 voters supported Measure E, but nearly 51 percent voted against bonds to pay for reconstruction and expansion of the 21,000-student, four-campus system.
The strongest support for the bond came from Nevada County voters, 54 percent of whom approved of the measure, which still fell short of the 55 percent threshold needed for the bond to pass.
Neal Allbee, dean of instruction for the Nevada County campus, said a bond is crucial for any future expansion plans at the eight-year-old college.
The college system recently drafted a master plan for 2025 that could be in jeopardy without a further infusion of cash.
“Without a bond, that won’t be practical,” he said. Plans to expand classroom space, build a public-safety academy and laboratories for a nursing program are on hold until money can be found. Asked if the college system had a backup plan in case Measure E failed, Allbee paused.
“When you need that much money, how can you have a contingency plan?”
The deans of each campus are scheduled to hold a debriefing today, in advance of the college’s next board meeting Tuesday, Allbee said.
The bond’s failure to pass means an offer by the college system to purchase 76 acres in Truckee could be on hold, as well, said Frank Decourten, dean of the 650-student Truckee campus. Sierra College in January made an offer for land to build a library, dormitories, classrooms and other amenities in Truckee, an offer largely contingent on Measure E’s passage.
Decourten, who opened the Truckee branch of the system a year ago, remains undaunted. The proposed small campus could still be built with loans or other forms of “creative financing,” he said.
“I have a sense we’ll probably regroup and go again in November. We will not simply drop plans for a Truckee campus. The need is too great.”
Students at the Nevada County campus Wednesday greeted Measure E’s demise with mixed feelings.
Amber Combs, 20, said Measure E’s failure means she’ll have to postpone the start of her nursing program for at least a year.
Measure E’s passage, said Combs, “would have made it easier for me to get in.” Her husband, Casey, planned to attend firefighting classes here. Now he, too, might have to wait.
Combs, who voted for Measure E, said she’d be willing to vote for it again. Earning a nursing degree locally for the Lyon’s waitress would save her money by avoiding trips to the Rocklin campus.
Jennifer Ortiz, 23, of Nevada City, said class cancellations because of a lack of need or interest soured her on Measure E.
“There’s a lot of empty classrooms here,” she said.
Her organic chemistry instructor, Gary Larsen, said students often “overbook” classes at the Nevada County campus and in Rocklin, believing they won’t get in.
When this happens, one class – usually in Rocklin – fills, leaving Nevada County classrooms empty or with few students.
After eight years, he said, many still don’t understand just how many classes are available locally, which leaves an uneven distribution of students in some classes.
“We need to be more stable in what we offer,” said Larsen, who worked to support the bond, a measure in a crowded, tax-filled ballot “that would have had the least impact on our wallets.”
Voters swung and missed at Measure E, Larsen said, but they may yet get another chance at bat.
“We had a strike (Tuesday),” he said. “We just have to regroup and hit a home run.”
Measure E: By the numbers
In terms of percentage, Nevada County voters gave the most support to Sierra College’s Measure E bond initiative Tuesday. However, the $394 million bond failed to get the required 55 percent of votes across its district, which includes Nevada, Placer, Sacramento and El Dorado counties.
District votes District % County votes County %
Yes 58,739 49 17,108 54
No 60,966 51 14,339 46
100% of county and district precincts reporting
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