New education and training opportunities will be offered in Hood River County as soon as summer 2004, thanks to Hood River Planning Commission approval of a local Columbia Gorge Community College site in downtown Hood River.
By unanimous vote Wednesday, Dec. 17, the planning commission gave the green light that allows the college to move into the Port of Hood River's Big 7 building, located at 616 Industrial Way on the northern edge of downtown.
The commission approved a conditional use permit to locate the new campus site in the light industrial-zoned building. The Big 7 site is a temporary location, and the college will strive to develop a permanent location within three to five years.
Columbia Gorge Community College will occupy up to 5,000 square feet of space on Big 7's top floor. Its neighbor will be local Internet service provider Gorge Networks. Six businesses occupy the former fruit-storage building's other three floors.
"The City of Hood River Planning Commission approval of the temporary college site in downtown Hood River is very good news," said Dr. Frank Toda, Columbia Gorge Community College president. "While we have nearly doubled the amount of services in Hood River since the creation of a new college district, it has been a challenge to provide significant daytime programming for the community," Toda added.
"This is a wonderful Christmas present for the entire Gorge," said Port Commission President Don Hosford. "We are pleased that the planning commission approved the Columbia Gorge Community College move into our Big 7 building. This is very important to our community and the Port looks forward to having a strong college presence in the Hood River area."
The college will offer a state-of-the-art technology center plus a basic skills training center. Also, the college will construct two classrooms to provide curriculum for students seeking two-year associate degrees and those planning to continue on to four-year institutions.
Some details still must be resolved, including parking in the downtown area. The Port plans to improve the parking lot on Big 7's north end to maximize parking. The college is negotiating additional parking spaces in the Sprint-owned Waucoma Center parking lot.
While the external character of the building will not be changed, the college will remodel its classroom, basic skills center and technology center spaces. Those alterations will determine exactly when the college site will be ready for instruction, but the opening is tentatively planned for summer term.
The Port of Hood River brought more to the project than a campus site. The Port has secured a $150,000 U.S. Department of Education appropriation to purchase and install the latest in computer equipment and software. Other grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will enhance the local campus.
"The commitment of the Port board to partner in developing a technology center in Hood River has resulted in enough federal financial support to move us toward this vision for the future - a future of more education and job training opportunities contributing to economic recovery for the whole region," Toda said.