Chinatown’s educational heights

A controversial plan to construct a 14-story community college building in Chinatown will learn its fate tonight.

City College trustees are scheduled to cast a final vote on the project, which includes two buildings for the proposed campus — a 14-story structure at Washington and Kearny streets and a four-story building on an adjacent lot.

Supporters have long been clamoring for educational services in Chinatown, while opponents say they are fighting for skyline views and neighborhood character.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a strong proponent of the project, gathered with more than 100 supporters Wednesday morning to rally for a “yes” vote. No one, however, was declaring victory.

“I’m very, very hopeful it will pass,” City College Chancellor Philip Day said.

Trustee Milton Marks, who was not at the rally, said he expects a long meeting and plans to raise a number of questions about the project. “Are these two [proposals] the only way for it to be done?” he said.

Marks is referring to a contingency included in the proposal: If it is approved, City College would be allowed to drop the taller building by one flight, to 13 stories, and take the shorter structure up, to five stories, if an agreement with the historic Columbobuilding about height limits is reached by Dec. 1.

City College officials say both building designs are a compromise with opponents from an original proposal that included one building that was 17 stories tall.

Critics are still not happy with the current design, a compromise that split the plan into two buildings and reduced their height. Day said the Hilton Hotel near Portsmouth Square has threatened to take legal action against City College, but had not filed any claims as of Wednesday.

“A real compromise would be two mid-rise to low-rise buildings, maybe nine stories and seven stories,” said Tony Gantner, former president of the North Beach Merchants Association.

Proponents say the current proposals support the educational plan for the school, which would serve 6,500 students currently spread out at facilities in Chinatown, North Beach and the Marina.

Trustees will vote on a final environmental review of the project, the two-building design and a measure to exempt City College from the height limit at 6 p.m. at 940 Filbert St.

New campus

The board of trustees for the City College of San Francisco will vote on a controversial plan tonight for a two-building Chinatown campus that would serve 6,500 students.

Location: Washington and Kearny streets in Chinatown

Buildings: One 14-story building and one four-story building

Design: Fourteen-story building will narrow at fourth floor to reduce impact on skyline and create an outside terrace.

Services: Classrooms, labs, libraries, auditorium, culinary school, galleries, lounges, bookstore, cafe

Cost: $138.3 million

Scheduled opening: Fall 2010

– Source: CCSF

arocha@examiner.com

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