The City College of San Francisco Fort Mason campus is largely focused on arts classes and programs for older adults. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner file phot)

CCSF puts Fort Mason campus on the chopping block

Faced with severe budget cuts, community college preparing to end decades-long lease

City College of San Francisco’s presence at Fort Mason may be coming to an end, should officials vote to move classes to other campuses on Thursday.

The City College Board of Trustees will vote Thursday whether to extend the lease at Fort Mason, which ends in June — but if they do it will be for just three months, to allow time to move out after about 40 years. The likely closure of the campus comes as the college faces a $12.8 million deficit for the current academic year and an estimated $27 million cut in state funds stemming from coronavirus.

City College expects enrollment to decline at its Fort Mason campus, which is largely focused on the arts and older adult courses, partly due to a reduction in the courses being offered, which will reduce the funding available to pay the $408,000 annual lease on top of building improvements. It has not scheduled any classes there for the fall semester, which is expected to be taught at least partly remotely due to coronavirus.

“If we were to extend the lease, we’d be paying for more months of a building we’re not using and we don’t really know when we’d be able to reopen again,” said Trustee John Rizzo said at a Budget and Audit Committee meeting earlier this month. “What staff are we going to let go to pay for the lease on an empty building?”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, City College cut 345 classes for the spring 2020 semester to address the current year’s budget deficit. After coronavirus, it cut 800 classes from the 2020-2021 academic year while advising 200 part-time faculty that they won’t have classes to teach in the fall.

The college is now anticipating cutting another 450 classes from the upcoming academic year in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May budget revise, which is expected to cut $27 million from its budget. City College will adopt a tentative budget on June 25.

City College has struggled to work out a long-term lease at Fort Mason and continually extended its stay for short amounts of time in recent years.

Protesters held a rally calling on City College of San Francisco to keep the Fort Mason campus open on May 15. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

It would cost an estimated $245,000 to relocate the kilns and other equipment at Fort Mason to other campuses, as well as construction costs to restore the space. Funds could come out of the $845 million bond measure San Francisco voters approved in March.

Faculty union American Federation of Teachers 2121 President Jenny Worley said she understands the short-term benefits to the college as it cuts costs, but fears it may cause enrollment to decline later on, costing more state funding based on those figures.

“I’d be really surprised if they’re able to serve those same students,” Worley said. “I’m worrying more that, in the long term, it will cause a downward enrollment spiral.”

News of the potential closure came as a surprise to students like Andi DiBenedetto, who has taken arts classes at Fort Mason for the past year and lives nearby. She likely wouldn’t continue those classes if they moved to other campuses, as transporting supplies to tighter spaces significantly farther away presents a barrier — a factor she feels the college should have taken into consideration.

“The administration is making decisions and not taking any input from any the people who have a stake in it,” DiBenedetto said. “It would have been nice to have more transparency in this.”

DiBenedetto feels they should at least extend the lease through December to gauge student needs before making a long-term — or final — departure.

“If you don’t have anywhere to put the classes, more students will have to be turned away,” DiBenedetto said. “I want them to take the time to properly describe where the estimations are coming from.”

City College also considered ending a lease at 1170 Market St. that expires in February 2021 to save another $1.1 million, but has not taken up the issue since April. The college previously ran its Civic Center campus out of 750 Eddy St., which it owns, until suddenly closing it in 2015 for a seismic retrofit. Construction has yet to begin.

Trustees Tom Temprano and Rizzo signaled they would hope to return to Fort Mason in the future, but with the delayed construction on the Eddy Street building and a bleak economic outlook, it’s unclear how soon those conversations could begin.

Anticipating steep cuts in student services, Supervisor Gordon Mar introduced a charter amendment last week for the November ballot that would allocate $20 million a year to City College.

“Our enrollment increases when we’re in recession times but it’s also when we’re less able to serve our students,” said Interim Chancellor Dianna Gonzales earlier this month. “It is now more than ever even more important to fully fund the College so that it can serve as a lynchpin in San Francisco’s economic recovery efforts.”

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