With its $67 million Center Street campus construction project on schedule for completion in January 2006, Berkeley’s Vista Community College is planning a birthday bash this week to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
The 4,200-student downtown facility opened in 1974 as the fourth and last of the Peralta Community College District’s colleges. It presently operates out of a building at 2020 Milvia St.
Public Information Officer Shirley Fogarino said that while the Dec. 2 anniversary event at Ashkenaz is “not expected to raise a lot of money,” it is part of a president’s capital campaign to generate funds to match $2.1 million in state expenditures for supplies and furnishings for the new building.
Other fund-raising plans include selling naming rights to portions of the new campus and soliciting small donations from Vista alumni. A fund-raising event with actor Danny Glover is scheduled for the Berkeley Repertory Theater next March.
Meanwhile, Fogarino says that construction on the new facility is presently “in the steel phase. They’re putting up steel for the first floor, and we expect to be topping off the framework in March of next year.”
When completed, the building will be 165,000 square feet and six stories, and will be northern California’s first single-structure, urban community college campus.
Swinerton Management & Consulting company is overseeing the project, while S. J. Amoroso Construction Company is the contractor for the building.
Vista President Judy Walters says that the facility construction is part of a long-range upgrade plan for the college.
“In ten years, Vista will be in the ranks of the top 25 community colleges in California in terms of reputation for the quality of students we prepare for the workforce and transferring to four-year institutions,” she said in an interview last summer. “Our student body will continue to be wonderfully diverse, not only in terms of ethnicity and skin color, but in their abilities. Vista is here. We are not an appendage, an afterthought, or a struggling child. We are here.”
When Vista was founded 30 years ago last April as the Berkeley Learning Pavilion, it’s original goal was to service the northern cities of Alameda County—Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville. Within six months, the college’s name was changed to the Peralta College for Non-Traditional Study (PCNS), with a mission of offering “alternative post-secondary educational programs and services” for students throughout the Peralta Community College District.
In its first three years, PCNS was considered a “college without walls,” holding classes in such widespread areas as Berkeley High School, the West Berkeley YMCA, the North Berkeley Community Center, and the Oakland Army Base. In 1978, the college’s name was changed to Vista, and three years later, it was granted full accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Not surprising for a Berkeley college, Vista has had a history of controversy.
Impetus for construction of the new facility came in 1995, when Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville residents—including then-Assemblymember Tom Bates and then-Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek—made an abortive attempt to create a Vista Community College District out of a portion of the Peralta Community College District. Part of the citizens’ concerns was that Vista had never had a permanent campus facility. The Peralta District eventually had to sue to prevent Vista from seceding.
According to published reports from that time, former Vista president Barbara Beno was reportedly fired from her position in 2000 in part because of her support for independence for the college from the Peralta District.
Earlier this year, charges of racism surfaced when Peralta’s Board of Trustees voted not to renew the contract of former Vista president John Garmon after hearing complaints from the college’s faculty senate. Outgoing trustee Darryl Moore said at the time that Garmon had “dropped the ball” on fundraising for Vista’s new campus, and had failed to build community ties for the 30th anniversary celebration.
Garmon, who is white, later charged racial bias in his firing, stating that the five African-American members of Peralta’s seven member Board of Trustees voted to end his contract “on racial grounds and voting as a black majority for race-based reasons.”
The board of trustees later hired Walters—who is also white—to replace Garmon. She assumed the Vista College presidency on July 1 of this year.
The fundraiser, with food, music and dancing, begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave. Music will be provided by the Bay Area jazz-blues-swing band Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. Tickets—$10 for the students, $20 for members of the public—are available at Vista’s cashier’s office at 2050 Center St., at www.vistabash.tix.com, or at 981-2800.