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Vista eyes new home

David Scharfenberg
Thursday October 10, 2002

Vista Community College wants a home, and soon, the 28-year-old Berkeley school should have one. 

Vista, which serves 4,500 students per semester, currently rents three crowded, sometimes stuffy buildings in downtown Berkeley at an annual rate of $1.1 million. 

But on Oct. 23 the school, one of four colleges in the East Bay’s Peralta Community College District, will break ground on a new $65 million, state-of-the art, six-story downtown campus at 2050 Center St. 

“I think it’s going to have a profound impact,” said Daryl Moore, vice president of the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees. “For once, Vista Community College will have a permanent residence.” 

Vista spokesperson Shirley Fogarino said the new campus will improve the student experience and provide space for lectures, film festivals and other community events that the current facilities can’t accommodate. 

“The students are packed in every hour of the day from eight in the morning to 10 at night,” Fogarino said. 

The October groundbreaking will be largely symbolic. Vista, the only Peralta college without a permanent home, has not yet hired a construction firm and work is not slated to begin until late next year. But, officials expect the project to be complete in the fall of 2005, with a spring 2006 move-in date. 

The new building has its roots in the intense “de-annexation” controversy of the mid- to late-1990s. 

At the time, local politicians and activists, including current mayoral candidate Tom Bates, argued that the Peralta district was neglecting Vista and pushed for secession. Opponents said the move would only harm Vista and the larger district. 

The de-annexation battle eventually made its way up to the state level in 1998, when the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges directed Peralta and the de-annexation petitioners to reach a settlement. 

The final agreement included a pledge to hire two new faculty per year for 10 years, getting Vista on par with the other Peralta colleges, and constructing a permanent home for the school. 

The district will draw $51.5 million from three separate construction bonds approved by Peralta district voters in the past ten years to fund most of the project.  

Officials hope to win the remaining $13.5 million through passage of Proposition 47, a statewide, $13 billion school construction bond on the ballot in November. Fogarino said the college has a “plan B and plan C” if California voters reject Proposition 47, but did not provide details. 

Officials said they have enjoyed significant community support for the project, but acknowledge that a lack of parking on site has raised concerns in the congested city. 

Assistant City Manager for Transportation Peter Hillier said the city is currently in preliminary talks with Vista about providing cash payments to Berkeley in lieu of parking.  

Fogarino said the absence of parking lots should spur use of public transportation with BART and AC Transit lines only a few blocks away. 

Tom Patterson of Ratcliff, the Emeryville architecture firm working on the project, said constructing an entire campus in one downtown building poses challenges around creating a sense of community. 

In an effort to foster campus life outside the classroom, Patterson said, Ratcliff designed a full-height, sky-lit atrium at the heart of the complex as a meeting space for students, faculty and staff. 

An administrative wing will sit on one side of the atrium and a larger academic wing will sit on the other side. The building will also include a library and a 250-seat assembly space. 

Patterson said Ratcliff has designed the building such that Vista can adjust the facility as its educational needs change over the years. 

Michael Mills, a long-time political science and history teacher at the college, said he is looking forward to leaving Vista’s current tight quarters behind. 

“It’s remarkable that students come to Vista at all considering where we teach,” he said. 

“All I really want is an environment for students that has adequate ventilation and isn’t cramped,” Mills continued. “We’re not asking for much.”