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MHCC reduces bond request

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Community college seeks voter approval of $75 million bond measure.

FILE PHOTO - Students receive instruction in what Mt. Hood Community College officials describe as an outdated technology building. The $75 million bond, if approved, would replace the facility.

The Mt. Hood Community College Board of Education decided to try again in May 2017 to ask voters to pass a facilities bond, just a year after voters said no to funding a larger college building plan.

The college has scaled back the bond amount to $75 million from the $125 million voters turned down in May 2016.

"We cannot wait any longer," said Debra Derr, MHCC president in the announcement. "If this college is to remain competitive and relevant and ready to help the residents of East County achieve their academic goals in the future, then we need the community's help right now." The college has not passed a bond in moe than 40 years.

The board said it is mindful of increasing property taxes. If the bond passes, it would cost property owners about $40 per year for a home assessed at $200,000 or 23 cents cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The college dropped many projects included in the larger bond attempt in May 2016 and is trying to balance the college's most pressing needs with a realistic view of what voters will pass.

"We understand how important every dollar is to every homeowner in our district," said Jim Zordich, vice chair of the board. "But we desperately need their support, and so do the thousands of students who pass through MHCC every year. At about $40 per year, we believe the cost is reasonable for residents, yet still can make a huge difference in a student's academic career."

The college wants to use about $36 million of the bond to build a new applied technology center to house the cutting edge manufacturing, automotive technology, welding and other skilled career programs it offers.

MHCC, the state's sixth-largest college and third-largest community college, also needs safety and security upgrades, the board said. About $8.4 million of he bond proceeds would go for security upgrades such as electronic lockdown systems for MHCC's three campuses, mass notification systems and emergency communication towers. There would also be seismic upgrades to the campus buildings, most of which were built in the 1960's and 1970's.

Concern about safety and security "is the thing we hear most often from our students," Derr said at a December board discussion about the bond. The sense of vulnerability was heightened after a 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg left 10 people dead and nine others injured.

The board also plans to pay down some old debt with the possible new bond. Passing the bond in May would allow MHCC to apply for $8 million in state matching funds. The board approved the $125 million bond proposal on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Board member Teena Ainslie said "We cannot continue to operate with buildings and facilities from four decades ago. While other colleges are expanding their facilities and programs, we're stuck in structures from the '70s."

School bonds have had mixed results in East Multnomah County over the last few years.

Voters turned down the MHCC's $125 million bond in May 2016 and in the same election they also nixed Centennial School District's $85 million bond and Corbett School District's $11.9 million bond.

Voters approved a $291.2 million bond for Gresham-Barlow School District in November and a $125 million bond for Reynolds School District in 2015.