Story last updated at 4:04 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

Proposition C offers big benefits for Homer branch campus
by Carey James
Homer News

Homer voters, as well as those across the state, will have an opportunity Nov. 5 to give the thumbs up or down to an enormous bond package that includes $3 million for the expansion of Homer's college.

If approved, the Kachemak Bay Campus of the Kenai Peninsula College would move out of the West Campus' temporary home in the old Homer Middle School building and into an expanded facility on the current East Campus site. The expansion would add 10,000 square feet to the current building, and students and faculty would enjoy new classroom space with facilities, like an art room with running water and rooms equipped for teleconferenced and videoconferenced classes. Construction could be completed by 2005.

Swartz said after two decades of trying for new or expanded facilities, the upcoming vote on Proposition C is the community's golden opportunity.

"For 20 years, this town's been waiting for this," she said, noting that the funding constitutes 5 percent of the total funding allocated for the university in the bond. "I think that's extraordinary. I'm so amazed at such a large amount. It's been a long time coming."

According to Swartz, the college had long been planning to expand beyond its current 12,000-square-feet of usable space, but had originally hoped to build a new facility on 4.7 acres of land behind the Heritage Hotel and Alice's Champagne Palace. As the state's economic situation tightened, however, it became apparent that funding for the new facility might be hard to come by.

Once the college began examining the option of expanding off its current building, it became clear that the renovations were the way to go. For less than half the cost, the college would expand to the same square footage a new facility would have provided, she said.

"We had to be realistic and use our assets," Swartz said. "With a community our size we weren't going to get that kind of money here."

Swartz said until the proposition passes, no complete plans will be made regarding the facility expansion. Some preliminary plans have been made about the expansion, however. If passed, the money would fund a two-story addition into what is currently parking between the present campus and city hall. More parking would be needed, and the college is discussing options with surrounding landowners, Swartz said.

While the proposed expansion would go a long way to making the campus more user-friendly for students, future expansions are proposed for the building. One includes adding a second floor to the current building. Another possible area for expansion may arise when the city moves from its facility.

While the additions will enhance the college, Swartz said, development of programs, such as a marine science baccalaureate program, are also crucial to the future success of the school.

Swartz said she is optimistic the proposition will pass. No campaign of opposition has been launched yet. The entire bond, which totals $236 million for education-related projects, includes $170 million for public schools grades kindergarten through 12, and $61 million for the University of Alaska facilities. An additional $5 million would be allocated for the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

With the current interest rates, the bond option gets even better, Swartz said. It would be repaid over a 20-year period, and a companion bill would provide debt reimbursement for borough school bonds for projects such as the proposed new school in Seward.

Swartz said she hopes voters will head to the polls Nov. 5, not only to approve the proposition, but also to show legislators that the southern peninsula supports its college.

"This is Homer's chance," she said.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homernews.com.

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