The Desert College Board of Trustees will consider the long-awaited feasibility study for the Palm Springs campus at its 9:30 a.m. meeting on Thursday, September 15, college spokesperson Nicholas Robles confirmed to The Desert. Sun.
The board will also hear an updated presentation on campus design, square footage and cost estimates, incorporating information from last month’s community survey.
The agenda for the September 15 meeting with presentations will be posted Monday on the college website: bit.ly/COD-Board.
Participants can observe the meeting in person at the Palm Desert campus or online via Zoom or YouTube.
Additionally, the college bond oversight committee will meet Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. on Zoom. The links to this agenda and the Zoom room are not yet available. Once published, these can also be viewed on the college’s website: bit.ly/COD-Oversight.
The saga behind the study
In January, the board approved a $47,500 contract with a consulting firm to produce a feasibility study after back and forth by Superintendent/President Martha Garcia over whether one was needed.
The study will include enrollment projections for prospective COD students who live within a 15-mile radius of the Palm Springs campus — though that distance excludes many Central Valley and East Valley students who might be interested in studying hospitality, culinary arts, digital media, architecture, and other programs that will be offered in Palm Springs.
The study will also include a labor market analysis for the campus-associated programs, and it will develop a schedule and financial modeling for the construction of the campus, in accordance with the contract.
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In December, Garcia said a feasibility study was never done for the campus.
A few days later, she backtracked on that statement in an email to Palm Springs city officials. She said parts of a feasibility study were done in 2016 and blamed staff for not helping her find that document. The document was and continues to be publicly available on the College’s website. The same goes for other planning documents produced by the college since 2016 that include student and industry data that Garcia said she hasn’t seen.
She then removed a feasibility study proposal from the December board agenda that was due to be completed in June.
A month later and without explanation, a new contract for a feasibility study that was supposed to be completed in September returned to the board’s consent schedule, meaning directors voted on it along with a bunch of other actions that didn’t require no prior discussion.
COD executives later said it was time to update the data given that six years and a pandemic had passed since the 2016 document was produced.
COD Responds to Visit Greater Palm Springs Study
Visit Greater Palm Springs released its own commissioned study on COD’s hospitality and culinary programs on Tuesday.
The study recommended that COD nearly triple the size of culinary and hospitality education space plans in Palm Springs to 30,000 square feet of net usable space. The recommendation was based on the assumption that enrollment in these programs would increase significantly over time.
On Wednesday, Robles said the college’s plans will be based on enrollment projections in its own commissioned feasibility study.
He said the consulting firm that produced the Visit Greater Palm Springs report only contacted the college two days before saying the report was supposed to be finalized.
“The information provided by COD was primarily a simple clarification of previously released presentations,” Robles told The Desert Sun.
He said COD agreed with the report that a learning hotel should not be part of the first phase of campus construction.
“COD is committed to providing the best possible learning environment for students whether or not a learning hotel is built,” Robles said. “However, we agree that a learning hotel should not be part of Phase I.”
Phase I is expected to cost $280 million of the planned $345 million for the entire campus project.
The college’s most recent plans show Phase I will construct about 114,000 gross square feet of buildings and leave about half of the 29-acre lot vacant on East Tahquitz Canyon Way.
City of Palm Springs and Visit Greater Palm Springs executives say spending $280 million to construct 114,000 square feet of buildings would make the campus the most expensive construction project per square foot in the Valley’s history. Coachella – potentially more than twice as expensive as Acrisure Arena.
“How did the West Valley Campus become by far the most expensive building per square foot in the entire Coachella Valley?” Palm Springs council member Geoff Kors asked during Tuesday’s Visit Greater Palm Springs event. “I think we deserve the answers.”
Robles said that estimate is “completely in error” because the $280 million includes “material and incidental costs” for the entirety of Phase I.
In construction, essential costs often refer to labor, structural materials, appliances, HVAC, plumbing and more. Indirect costs include architectural and engineering services, site analysis, landscaping, financing and legal fees.
Robles said the actual construction costs for the campus are estimated at $188 million, and more information on that new figure and construction costs in general will be available next week.
“With estimated construction costs of $188 million, this project is consistent with projects of similar size and scope,” he said.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan