OAKHURST — A small billboard just off Highway 49 is actually a sign of something huge about to happen on a quiet hillside just up the road.
Call it a sign of the times — the single-most expensive public project in Oakhurst’s history — the new Oakhurst Community College Center campus — will soon start transforming a patch of prime real estate just behind True Value Hardware.
Today, all you can hear at the pristine development site are chirping birds and wind whistling through brush and pines. But the sounds of nature will soon be replaced by the sounds of construction.
“Hopefully, we’re less than three years out right now from welcoming students,” Darin Soukup, director at the Oakhurst Community College Center, said this week. Soukup said he still anticipates construction starting in 2021.
Project architect — Clovis based Paul Halajian — is still on track to unveil designs for the new facility “sometime after the first of the year,” Soukup said. Reached at a conference this week, Halajian confirmed that timetable and said his team was “continuing to refine our design.”
The new $25 million campus will built on the hillside above True Value Hardware and the Mountain Christian Center. The Madera County Sheriff’s Department substation and Madera County Fire / CAL FIRE are also very close to the 30-acre development site, which overlooks a large pond and is framed by sweeping mountain views.
The prime site was selected, in part, for its access to — and visibility from — Highway 49.
“We had very thorough site selection analysis,” Soukup told SNO this past March. “[The development site] is still part of a wildland urban interface, however the location was determined to be the most defensible in the case of a wildfire.”
To be built in phases as the area’s population grows, current plans are for the new center to operate initially from one 28,000-square-foot main building.
The campus master plan, according to project architect Paul Halajian, will allow for expansion as enrollment and future funding dictate.
After a design is finalized, the architect’s plan is sent to the state architect for a review that can take up to a year.
Soukup said it should take just a little over a year to build out [the campus]. If it’s finished by the spring of 2022, we can start moving furniture in and hopefully have our first students in the classroom that fall,” Soukup said.
Oakhurst Community College Center is part of the State Center Community College District (SCCCD), a network of area community colleges that includes Fresno City, Madera, Clovis Community and Reedley Colleges.
The Oakhurst and Madera campuses are currently attached to Reedley College and officials at Oakhurst and Madera have been working to gain independent accreditation and become the SCCCD’s fourth stand-alone college — re-branded under the Madera Community College banner.
The new Oakhurst Center project was approved by SCCCD trustees after voters OK’d Bond Measure C in 2016.
The new state-of-the-art facility will replace the current Oakhurst Community College Center in downtown Oakhurst. About 1,050 students are enrolled in classes this academic year at that location, which uses portable buildings as classrooms.
Soukup and other administrators have been busy this week with on-site visits from the representatives from the ACCJC — the area’s community college accreditation commission.
The ACCSJ makes the final determination on whether Madera and Oakhurst colleges can team up to form their own separate college within the SCCCD.