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CCSF won’t erase Fort Mason arts campus

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A student walks along the exterior of the City College of San Francisco campus at Fort Mason on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Art classes are in session and set to continue — at least throughout the 2017-18 school year — at City College of San Francisco’s previously imperiled satellite campus at Fort Mason.

The CCSF Board of Trustees in a unanimous vote on Thursday approved a lease extension agreement with the campus’ landlord, the nonprofit Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, securing the college’s continued operation through Feb. 28, 2018.

City College officials said they are hopeful that either another lease extension will be granted come February to allow students to finish off the school year or that a permanent lease agreement will be reached between the school and nonprofit before then.

“What [the extension] does is ensure … that we will run a normal academic program not only through the fall but through the entire spring,” said CCSF Chancellor Mark Rocha at Thursday’s board meeting. “We do expect, even though Feb. 28 is the middle of spring semester, at the very least to bring back another extension to get us through the spring.”

Following the expiration of CCSF’s lease at Fort Mason earlier this year, a proposed 48 percent rent increase over the next five years as well as capital improvements required to bring the Fort Mason building up to par had threatened the four-decade old campus’ existence.

CCSF administrators considered relocating its classes to CCSF’s Ocean and Mission campuses for the fall 2017 semester, drawing the ire of the Fort Mason community, which includes retired professional artists and senior students.

Some questioned the college administration’s intentions of maintaining the campus after it was revealed that CCSF had failed to correspond with its landlord for several months following the initial rent hike proposal.

But CCSF’s current administration has seemingly made keeping the historic campus intact a priority. Rocha took office this summer and last week encouraged the CCSF Board of Trustees to authorize the extension.

“We do expect between now and Feb. 28 to bring back to you a lease proposal,” Rocha said on Thursday.
The extension will bill the college at its current subsidized monthly rent of $28,120.28.

Negotiations around a long-term lease are ongoing and contingent on an additional cost separate from the rent hike — the required seismic and ADA accessibility upgrades to the college’s 42-year-old building.

In June, the school’s administration estimated that improvements to the old Fort Mason building could total as much as $16 million. That cost coincides with a $35 million cutback in state funding this school year.

“The property is substandard. It requires some tens of millions of dollars of upgrades in order to meet the education standards of the state of California,” CCSF Trustee John Rizzo told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday. “That is really the main issue more than the monthly rent … That is where the bulk of the money is.”

But Rich Hillis, the nonprofit’s’ executive director, called the administration’s estimate “big” and said his organization is engaging in “good faith efforts” to keep CCSF housed at Fort Mason.

“We are digging into that number… to see if that is the need,” said Hillis.

Despite the campus’ uncertain future, enrollment has not taken a hit at Fort Mason, with the student headcount up by at least 9 percent, from 390 students last year to 420 students this fall, according to Kristina Whalen, dean of CCSF’s School of Fine, Applied and Communication Arts.

“It’s a vibrant place to be,” said Whalen of the campus’ art community.

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