Erick Lemus/Courier - The abandoned U building at Pasadena City College on October 15, 2016. The building would be demolished and a new building would be constructed if Prop 51 were to pass.
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If Proposition 51 on the upcoming Nov. 8 General Election ballot fails, the U Building — the condemned, eerily silent 80,000-square-foot science building adjacent to the Bonnie parking areas and the Science Village — may be doomed. Voters can do something about this.

Proposition 51 authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds (loans paid back from state revenues over years) for school facilities, according to numerous election guides. $2 billion of the total is for community colleges. The funds are to be allocated for repair or new construction.

Inspections of the U Building over the years revealed that it would not survive a strong earthquake, according to PCC documents. The Division of the State Architect required the four-story structure to be vacated, a college spokesman said.

The structure, known also as Armen Sarafian Hall, is too risky to occupy. Administrators said in 2012 renovation and retrofitting were not cost effective. The building would have to be razed and then rebuilt. Although the U Building has sat empty for years due to lack of funds for reconstruction, it now has a chance to return to life.

Funds from the passage of Proposition 51 would be used to demolish the U Building and construct a desperately needed, new science building. Voters could bring the nursing, dental, biology, chemistry, and science students back home from the Foothill campus, from other buildings, and from bungalows to a space with ample classrooms and up-to-date, science-specific labs.

In the years that the U Building has been dormant, STEM programs have become rising stars and magnets for funding and donations.  

According to Richard S. Storti, PCC assistant superintendent and vice president, “If Proposition 51 passes, the U Building is the number one project in the state. It will be the first project to be funded [through the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office].”

Paul Feist, a spokesman for the Chancellor’s Office, said in an email, “Pasadena Community College District has a project in our spending plan that is approximately $60.5M. The state contribution to that project that would be contingent upon the passage of Proposition 51 is approximately $58.3M with district contributing $2.2M.”

Storti said that these would be the funds allocated for the U Building. If Proposition 51 passes, he said, “PCC could have a new U Building within a five-year period.”

PCC now has modern arts and technology buildings, a campus center, and numerous other new structures. This is thanks, in part, to Measure P, a construction bond approved by Pasadena Area voters in 2002 that is now running out of funds, Storti said.

There are 17 statewide propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot. Some may be confusing. Proposition 51 isn’t. The U Building will be rebuilt at PCC with these funds. Other smaller projects are possible, Storti said. Proposition 51 funds will also be used by schools statewide. $7 billion of the bond funds are earmarked for much-needed repair and upgrades in K-12 public school facilities.

Every vote counts. Many important issues have passed with small majorities. PCC voter power is fierce, considering 27,000 students, plus 1,100 faculty, staff, families, and the networks they influence.

According to the nonpartisan political guide Ballotpedia, Proposition 51 is supported by the Republican and Democratic parties of California as well as by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of California and the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

Governor Jerry Brown opposes Proposition 51 as he said California has taken on way too much debt. Especially considering unfunded pension costs.

However, there has not been a statewide school bond in 10 years. State or local bonds are currently how K-14 building projects get built, Storti said. Funds from state revenues are generally insufficient for major capital projects. Since 1998, state bonds have provided $4 billion for community college facilities and Local Measure P, approved in 2002, provided $150,000,000 from bonds to renovate PCC. But that was then. Students on campus can identify numerous other facilities in dire need of repair, updating or reconstruction.

If Proposition 51 fails, Storti said, “PCC and all the other community colleges and school districts will have to look for other funding.” The Trustees might consider putting a local measure on the ballot in two years, he said. If it passes, it might be a decade before the U Building is replaced.

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