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COC trustees agree to fund more projects

Money will be used to expand firefighter training facility

Posted: March 16, 2009 1:14 a.m.
Updated: March 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
College of the Canyons trustees have passed two initiatives to fund construction projects both on and off campus.

One initiative approved last week authorized the Santa Clarita Community College District to borrow $9 million for the expansion of an off-campus firefighter training facility that would eventually be used as a firefighter academy.

The trustees approved the sale of up to $9 million in certificates of participation. The funding mechanism allows the district to borrow funds from a private financing company that invests in public agencies. The district later repays the amount in installments from the college's revenues.

The concept of the funding process is similar a home equity loan, COC spokeswoman Sue Bozman explained.

Wednesday's decision will allow the expansion of the Del Valle Regional Training Center, located in the Del Valle community about eight miles west of Santa Clarita.

The college has a joint-use agreement with the Consolidated Fire Protection District of Los Angeles County to use the training grounds.

Through the agreement, the district will provide construction and equipment funding and training by COC instructors while the college will eventually use the grounds to train students in COC's fire technology program.

The first facility to be built with the funds will include classrooms and two fire towers, said Barry Gribbons, COC vice president of institutional development.

"They are currently constructing a building where they can control fire and what appears to be smoke using computer controls," Gribbons said. "They can also change the scenario every time they come up so the firefighters can't memorize it."

He added that future construction plans include a replica of a small town for trainees to navigate through, as well as an emergency vehicle operations course.

Training technologies already located on the site include a rubble pilot with tunnels that teach urban search and rescue, as well as props such as a rail car used to simulate accidents, Gribbons said.

"(The facilities) will enable the Fire Department to do training that they have never been able to do in the past," Gribbons said.

Only $7 million of the Certificates of Participation will be used directly toward construction, while the remaining $2 million will be used toward "issuance costs" such as costs for legal and underwriting services, said Sharlene Coleal, COC assistant superintendent.

The funds are part of $22 million the district has committed to the project. Up to $15 million will come from the local Measure M bond passed in 2006.

The trustees also decided to borrow $18.1 million from the $160-million Measure M bond to fund existing construction projects on the Valencia and Canyon Country campuses.

The district plans to repay the funds after receiving reimbursements from the state in the 2009-2010 school year.

The loan from Measure M will replace frozen state money that was supposed to fund the projects, Bozman said.

"We're using that money (for) projects that we have that are already under way ... so that we can continue that construction, meet our obligations, pay our contractors and keep moving forward," Bozman said.

With the fund transfer, $9.2 million of the $18.1 million loan will be used to fund projects that are in progress. The projects include the construction of the University Center, equipment purchases for three new buildings and payment for library design drawings.

The remaining $8.9 million will be used for committed service contracts and equipment purchase orders, Bozman said.

"It's a cash flow issue," she said. "We have that capacity to backfill those monies with our local bond monies. There are other districts that don't have that ability, and other districts are in big trouble."


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