A possible partnership to provide off-campus housing for a handful of Hancock College students was met with interest and inquiries Tuesday night from the college's board of trustees.

Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers said a contractor who is planning to build a nine-unit apartment complex for H-2A farmworkers in the 400 block of East Mill Street approached administrators with a proposal to possibly reserve four units for college students. Through an agreement with the property owner, Walthers said the college would be able to divert a portion of a student's financial aid award to serve as rent payments on the apartment.

"The idea would be to give students ... a safe place to live in a consolidated area," he told the board, pointing to student athletes or actors participating in training programs at the Pacific Conservatory Theater that often relocate to Santa Maria from out of the area or state. "We wanted to bring this to the board for a general discussion about trying this out as a pilot program, where the college isn't necessarily on the hook but we are participating in this."

According to a list maintained by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, only 11 of 115 community colleges in California operate dormitories or provide housing assistance. And while Hancock College administrators have previously sought proposals and identified student housing as a goal of their 10-year facilities master plan, the college currently does not operate any dormitories or other student-housing options.

While Area 1 Trustee Hilda Zacarias said placing the information item on the board's agenda generated interest from a rental property owner interested in "creating student-focused housing," she expressed concern over possible safety issues stemming from the off-campus housing. While other trustees also voiced questions regarding financial and other liabilities, Zacarias said she wanted to hear about "success stories" from other schools before considering the project.

"I don't think we're prepared to say 'No, don't do it,' but I do think that we want to proceed cautiously," she added.

Trustees on Tuesday also voted unanimously to approve the sale of up to $23 million in bonds through Measure I, which was approved by voters in 2006, to finance construction of the proposed Fine Arts Complex. Eric Smith, the college's associate superintendent/vice president for business and administration, said the bonds would be sold to Morgan Stanley at a tax-exempt interest rate estimated at 3.8-percent.

Should the college sell $21.2 million in bonds at the estimated interest rate, Smith said they would likely pay $15 million in interest over the 30-year term of the bond. At that rate, the final financed cost would be approximately $36.1 million.

Though only $14 million is needed to fully fund the the project, Smith and Walthers told trustees that the proposed $48 million project cost could be higher due to an escalation in construction and labor costs. Walthers said the college can plan for unexpected cost increases by authorizing more than the needed amount.

Leftover money could also be put toward other projects jeopardized by the failure of Measure Y, a $75 million facilities construction bond.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga



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