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CCSF under scrutiny over Fort Mason future

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CCSF’s Fort Mason campus on Monday. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)

When news broke last week that City College of San Francisco intended to close its Fort Mason art campus, many questioned whether college administrators had done enough to save it.

Faculty at the 42-year-old campus had heard rumors that the campus was in danger of closing before. But this time, it was different.

“We’ve never gotten this far in feeling that we might actually be on the chopping block,” said Claire Brees, a painting lecturer who has worked at Fort Mason for about a decade.

CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said Monday that the college planned to close the campus and relocate the art classes starting next semester because of a proposed rent hike. But later that day, Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb said there was still “wiggle room” to negotiate the lease with the landlord, the nonprofit Fort Mason Center.

Since then, more details have emerged indicating that the administration is moving toward a shutdown of the Fort Mason campus at a time when CCSF is shrinking its overall class schedule to prepare for a $35 million stepdown in state funding next fiscal year.

The Board of Trustees will have to approve any recommendation by the administration. The matter is expected to be heard but not voted on Thursday, according to board President Thea Selby.

The closure of the Fort Mason campus would damage a community that has grown there over the last four decades, Brees said. Many of the students are retired professional artists, who mix with younger students.

About 400 students use the ground floor of the two-story building for sculpture and ceramics, and the second floor for printmaking, drawing and painting.

The administration has asked faculty at Fort Mason to figure out what renovations are needed to move the art classes to Mission and Ocean campuses, according to faculty members.

“This is the first time I ever heard that they were asking us for details about what we required in studio space,” said one longtime faculty member who asked to remain anonymous. “They were actively looking for other locations for us.”

Lamb claimed that administrators negotiated “hard” for the college at a meeting with the Fort Mason community Monday. But emails obtained by the Examiner show administrators did not respond to the initial rent hike proposal from the Fort Mason Center for at least two months.

“We’ve been sort of a stepchild of City College for years,” said the unnamed faculty member.

The Fort Mason Center first proposed raising the rent by 28 percent in the first year and reducing the amount of space that CCSF could use on Nov. 1, 2016. It’s unclear whether Vice Chancellor Ron Gerhard ever responded. The Examiner obtained emails up to Jan. 17, which showed no correspondence.

“It’s disappointing that City College hasn’t engaged with us in a good faith negotiation,” the nonprofit’s Executive Director Rich Hillis said in a statement.

Hillis claimed that the rent hike is not prompting CCSF to leave, and denied that there was a rent hike at all since the college would save more than $575,000 on rent over the next 10 years, according to Hillis.

CCSF would pay $1.55 per square foot under the proposal compared to the current $1.21 per square foot. Since the college would lose a quarter of its space at Fort Mason, the overall rent would decrease from $279,373 next year to $272,592.

“It is simply wrong to claim that a fictional rent increase is forcing them to abandon the Fort Mason arts campus,” Hillis said.

Hamilton declined to comment further when asked if the administration intends to leave or will instead negotiate as the chancellor said at the town hall Monday.

“We value our partnership with Fort Mason Center and look forward to continuing our lease discussions with the them in the days ahead,” Hamilton said in an email.

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