By Alfredo Santana
NORWALK — Construction of a new students services and administration building at Cerritos College received a big boost last month from the state, after Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon helped secure $16 million from Proposition 98 funds.
At the same time, it was announced that a program to encourage college students to ride for free on public buses coordinated with the Norwalk Transit System and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority received $600,000 in funds allocated from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia.
Building the new administrative and student services building is part of the college’s master plan that was first outlined in 2011, and updated in 2019 with input from community stakeholders and student preferences gathered at meetings, campus forums and at in person and online workshops.
According to public relations officer Aya Aoki, the old student services building is under review by the Division of State Architect, and the new facility’s site is being prepared for construction to begin in summer or fall next year.
Currently, the lot’s perimeter is fully fenced and banners advertising the buildings’ future location are displayed all around it.
The total construction costs for the new building is estimated at $67 million, and college administrators are working with the state to determine how and when the recent allocation will be released.
“I was pleased to work with Assemblymember Garcia to secure this much needed funding to modernize the learning environment at Cerritos Community College,” said Rendon, who attended Cerritos College. “These are the type of educational investments that make a difference for our local communities.”
With the new building, the two-year school aims to centralize resources and make the facility the gateway for financial aid, counseling and for programs to assist students with transferring options to four-year universities, particularly for first generation low income enrollees.
The new facility will be located across a big open area from the recently opened Performing Arts Center, a structure with modern acoustic chambers and classrooms for music and theater studies largely financed with funds generated from Measures CC and G, both voted in by local residents.
Approved in 2004, Measure CC authorized the sale of bonds for $210 million to pay for facilities’ construction and renovation, and Measure G, passed in 2012, provided $350 million in bonds to make improvements to educational settings.
The Performing Arts Center is also part of the facilities Master Plan’s renovations currently underway.
The ambitious modernization plan also called for a full teardown and rebuilding of the health and wellness complex, a building next to the football and track and field stadium, the business education and language arts building and the cosmetology center.
Furthermore, the facilities plan called for renovations of the health science building, and a myriad of improvements at academic gardens and student common areas.
In the last decade, obsolete classrooms in the Fine Arts and Liberal Arts buildings have been demolished and reconstructed.
Proposition 98 guarantees a minimum amount of funds for K-12 school districts and community colleges in California, pegged at 41% of all yearly state expenses approved in the general fund budget.
Funds for Proposition 98 are raised through personal income tax filings, sales taxes, levies on corporate and capital gains, plus a share of property tax revenues.
On the GoPass front, “Cerritos College is the only community college to receive state funding through legislative priorities to support student transit efforts,” said Daryl Betancur, the college’s interim director for public affairs and government relations.
The GoPass program joins the MTA’s Fareless System Initiative approved in September 2021 projected to last 23 months as part of a pilot program to benefit K-12 and community college students.
That program was estimated to cost $49.9 million for the county’s transportation agency in loss income, but received a cash infusion of $41.5 million from the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021.
Cerritos College recently unveiled along with the Norwalk Transit System two buses wrapped with GoPass decals to promote the program. Both units serve Norwalk’s routes 1 and 2 through the first week of January 2023.
Cerritos College launched GoPass in March for all students who pay their student activities fee each semester to ride the city’s bus system and transfer to MTA’s buses and light rail trains for free.
Of the estimated 21,000 enrolled students, about 70% qualify for the California College Promise Grant, enabling them to waive tuition fees, and 50% get federal Pell grants, which are awarded mainly to low-income pupils with dire financial strains.
Aoki said 13,733 students benefitted from California College Promise grants last year, and 10,492 have waived tuition fees in the current academic year, even though the college still processes enrollment for the 2023 spring semester.
Most Cerritos College students hail from Southeast Los Angeles communities, including Artesia, Bellflower, Norwalk, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Cerritos and portions of Bell Gardens, Long Beach, Santa Fe Springs and South Gate.
Cerritos College President-Superintendent Jose Fierro thanked Rendon and Garcia for their support and efforts to provide quality education and a revamped learning environment to area residents as means to increase social mobility and improve their lives.
“We strive to be a good steward of taxpayer money by constantly seeking additional funding opportunities to stretch our bond dollars and resources,” Fierro said. “Updated instructional facilities are crucial to providing affordable and quality education to students so they can prepare for today’s in-demand jobs and competitive global economy.
“The transportation support will ensure our students can travel to campus and their jobs without the burden of paying for transportation and increase their ability to achieve their educational goals on time. By providing access to transportation, we are also helping change their life trajectories.”