Marathon meeting over COD Palm Springs campus more informative than combative

Trustee: “I think there was a lot of information that was presented today that will definitely help all of us move forward.”
COD Trustee Bea Gonzalez speaks near the end of a seven-hour meeting that included discussion of a planned Palm Springs college campus.

A seven-hour meeting featuring discussions about the size and scope of the planned West Valley College of the Desert (COD) campus in Palm Springs Thursday may have helped bring both sides a little closer.

Roughly 30 taxpayers, civic leaders, and representatives of the tourism and hospitality industries spoke in person or via Zoom during a regular meeting of the COD Board of Trustees, sticking tight to recent demands that college officials approve building a version of the college that was touted as far back as 2004.

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The trustees are the latest to inherit responsibility for the West Valley campus. They defended current plans to scale back the Palm Springs project, pointing to studies of potential student needs and enrollment projections that will impact the ability to pay for the new campus on an ongoing basis.

In the end, both sides agreed to attempt to collaborate in person instead of in the court of public opinion.

“We can argue facts and dates until we’re blue in the face,” said Bruce Hoban, a Palm Springs resident behind an organization that mounted a campaign hoping to shame college officials into further action, “but how do we get this into a dialogue instead of mud-slinging?”

Added Trustee Bea Gonzalez at the meeting’s conclusion: “As I’ve said many times, all we can do is present facts, and I think there was a lot of information that was presented today that will definitely help all of us move forward.”

Board members took one major step toward an improved dialogue during the meeting. They voted unanimously to approve members of an advisory group for the initial phase of the college that will include the mayors of Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, and Coachella, as well as representatives from the community and hospitality and tourism industries.

That vote preceded a lengthy review of the project where Board members and the public heard specific details about everything from the status of funds for the campus, to the evolution of its design, to its current timeline.

Among the highlights of the marathon meeting:

  • Bond Program Manager Mac McGinnis said work on the schematic design is beginning and that he hoped to have a site plan, floor plan, renderings, and the general character and aesthetics of the building mapped out within four months.
  • Construction at the site of a former mall in central Palm Springs should begin in 2024 and be completed by August 2026.
  • A representative of the project’s architectural firm said cost estimates that rose from about $1,000 per square foot to $2,400 per square foot were miscalculations. He added that the higher number factors not just building space but increased labor and materials costs and “soft costs” such as permitting, furniture, and equipment.
  • Claims that the college would come up short on space needed for the culinary and hospitality programs, made following a study paid for by Visit Greater Palm Springs, were also refuted. Interim Executive Vice President Dr. Christina Tafoya explained that while less square footage is solely dedicated to those programs, they would share access to classrooms and other needed space on campus.
  • Deletion of a learning hotel, a move widely criticized by Palm Springs hospitality industry executives was prudent, said Jean Gath, a partner at Pfeiffer Partners Architects, because hospitality faculty said they only needed mock training hotel rooms and a lobby. Gath remarked that the learning hotel could be a part of future phases of the project.

“There is a massive amount of efficiency,” Dr. Tafoya said of the current Palm Springs campus plan. “Just because something is built doesn’t mean it is only designated for one use. This works out so that when a classroom, for example, isn’t in use by one program, it can be used by another.”

“A lot of people are saying ‘build what was promised,” she added later. “When we talk about ‘what was promised,’ there are varying opinions about what was promised. We’re trying to build what our students need and what we can maintain.”

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