Mountain View Voice

News - August 12, 2011

Foothill board chooses Air Force base

by Sue Dremann

The former Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale has been chosen as a new campus for Foothill College, Foothill-De Anza Community College District's Board of Trustees voted on Monday. The new site does not replace the school's main campus in Los Altos Hills.

Board members directed the district's administration to take the necessary steps leading to possible acquisition of the land as a public benefit, they said in a statement.

The board cited the opportunity to acquire the 9.6-acre property at no cost; its proximity to highways, public transportation and areas of population growth; and its visibility and location in a growing part of Sunnyvale.

"This is an exciting time," Board President Pearl Cheng said. "This direction comes after an exhaustive search and review of opportunities that would best meet the district's objectives in finding a permanent home for the education center."

The new education center will offer year-round programs and services, including partnerships with other colleges and universities, high schools, regional occupational programs, community-based organizations, local government, business and industry, district officials said.

Foothill has leased an 8-acre site at Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto for many years and had hoped to purchase the property for the education center. But some residents were opposed, citing the need for future school district expansion as school-age population increases.

The Palo Alto City Council voted in July to draft a letter to the district expressing its interest in the campus, but decided against moving forward after the Palo Alto Unified School District, which owns the land, voted against supporting a sale.

Sunnyvale Mayor Melinda Hamilton and Vice Mayor Jim Griffith told the board they are enthusiastic about possibly having Foothill-De Anza open a center in their community. The City of Sunnyvale serves as the local redevelopment authority overseeing the disposal and reuse of the Air Force property.

"We are thrilled to hear you are interested in coming to Sunnyvale," Hamilton said.

Griffith described the education center as a good match for the base reuse, envisioning it as a place where students could intern at surrounding high-tech companies and area workers and displaced armed forces personnel could gain additional education.

The district must do an environmental impact report of the site before a final transaction could take place, board members said, and the Sunnyvale City Council, as local redevelopment authority, must amend the Onizuka redevelopment and reuse plan to specify that an educational use is preferred for the property.

Foothill-De Anza could then move forward with an application to the U.S. Department of Education for a public-benefit conveyance.

The only cost to the district in obtaining the 9.6 acres would be the expense of clearing and preparing the site for construction, estimated at approximately $5 million, according to a board statement. The education center would be funded through a bond measure approved by district voters in 2006.

The Onizuka property is located in the Moffett Business Park, a center for corporate headquarters and research and development. Park tenants include Juniper Networks, Yahoo and Network Appliance.

The entire Onizuka site is 23 acres, approximately 18.9 of which can be developed. The Air Force has accepted a request by the Veterans Administration to use 4.1 acres and three buildings for research activities.

Foothill-De Anza has been searching for several years for a permanent home for the education center.

In April, the district issued solicited proposals for properties of eight acres or more along the Highway 101 corridor within the district's boundaries. The district needs about 50,000 square feet of building space, with the opportunity for possible future expansion to 100,000 square feet.

This effort took place at the same time companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and others were rapidly expanding and leasing large blocks of commercial and research and development properties in Silicon Valley.

The district received one offer: a joint venture from development firms Orchard Partners/Lane Partners for a "build to suit" education center on a 10-acre site at 895 Kifer Road, Sunnyvale.

The Onizuka site development would take several years. Even if the education center relocates from Palo Alto, Foothill College President Judy Miner said she hopes the college can retain leased space at Cubberley so Foothill can continue offering courses that are in greatest demand by residents of Palo Alto. Foothill's Middlefield Campus offers serves approximately 4,000 students.

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