If CCSF does close, what becomes of its buildings and debt?

If City College of San Francisco loses its accreditation in July, its classes will end, its programs will be terminated and campus life will cease to exist. But what about the school's buildings and their associated debt?

State and local officials are now seeking answers to this and other lingering questions regarding the physical infrastructure of California's largest community college if its accreditation is eventually lost and its students leave for other schools.

City College was told its accreditation would be terminated in July 2014, but officials have one year to ask for a review and appeal of the decision. College officials have said they will do all they can to keep the state's largest community college operating.

The only other California community college to lose its accreditation was Compton Community College in 2006. In that instance, Compton was absorbed by another school, nearby El Camino Community College District. The school's old buildings live on as part of the new parent institution.

But California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris has indicated that Compton's fate is not an option for CCSF. In the event that CCSF does close, students would need to transfer to other intuitions to finish their degrees, and Harris does not envision other institutions operating out of its facilities.

“The options are really limited because the commission's made it really clear they're not going to do another Compton,” Harris said of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. “It didn't work. You can't take this city and slice it and give a piece of the pie to Marin or San Mateo; you can't do that.”

So what will become of the nine facilities in which CCSF hosts classes, and who will be left paying for the hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money approved by voters?

“That's something that needs to be addressed,” said Chancellor's Office spokesman Paul Feist.

City College successfully passed three separate bonds since 1997 for a total of $581.3 million to help pay for technology improvements and build the new Chinatown/North Beach Campus, which opened last year. According to the bond-rating firm Moody's Analytics, San Francisco would be responsible for the $395 million in remaining bond debt because it is the agency that collects the taxes used to pay off bonds.

CCSF also successfully passed a parcel tax last November that would generate $16 million every year for eight years to help keep the college operating during the economic downturn. But who if anyone could use that funding in the future also remains unclear.

After all, Feist noted, CCSF would still be a community college district — albeit one without federal and state funding.

“There are a lot of questions,” Feist said. “What would happen in terms of satisfying debt they currently have? They could decide to sell assets, or maybe some sort of bankruptcy proceeding.”

When the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced that it would revoke CCSF's accreditation next year, it also told school officials that they must revise their report explaining how they would shut the school and help its students resume their education elsewhere.

Feist said the plan and the state's goal is to ensure students are taken care of in case CCSF does lose its accreditation.

Harris said that if CCSF does close, it will open the door for private institutions to flock to San Francisco and charge much more for the same classes.

“I don't think that's in the best interest of The City, and I know it's not in the best interest of the students,” Harris said. “That's why getting this right is so important, because I don't think there are a lot of alternatives out there.”

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