College of the Siskiyous lands grant for new fine arts complex

Mike Meyer

College of the Siskiyous has landed more than $27 million in state funding to build a new Creative Arts Complex, replacing the aging McCloud Hall and Kenneth Ford Theater.

The college was informed by the chancellor's office of the California Community Colleges that the project would be fully funded to the tune of $27,216,000. COS president and superintendent Stephen Schoonmaker gave the board of trustees the good news at their meeting last Tuesday.

McCloud Hall is the current home to fine arts studios and classrooms and was part of the original campus built in 1959. The performing arts complex, which his home to the Kenneth W. Ford Theater, was also part of the original campus. The theater opened in 1969 with Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” under the direction of James Witherell.

The effort to win funding for the project started 10 years ago and took several attempts by three college administrations.

“We submitted the first proposal in 2012, were turned down, and then applied four more times,” said COS president and superintendent Stephen Schoonmaker. “Along the way, we stopped applying for everything else and focused only on the Theatre Arts renovation. That is when the state started to show interest. We were getting calls, they were asking questions. But we still weren't approved.”

In February of 2020, Schoonmaker said, the chancellor’s office called COS to say the project could be approved if the college came up with $5.4 million in matching funds.

Schoonmaker said this was a deal breaker – COS didn’t have that kind of funding. But in refusing to give up, a new avenue forward came to light, he said.

“We found an opportunity to apply on a hardship. Over this past winter and spring we made phone calls and drafted the hardship application. The state kept asking for clarifications.”

COS administrators and faculty “got to the place where we had one more chance to revise the application,” said Schoonmaker. “Dr. (Nathan) Rexford did the research, and I re-framed the arguments.”

The main reason the approval was held up under the hardship application was that the college had bond monies from a 2005 bond that hadn't been used, Schoonmaker explained.

“We couldn't use that money. Property valuations hadn't increased. We realized we had to articulate this on the application. It made the difference. They granted the hardship and removed the match requirement.”

COS trustees voted Tuesday to accept the funds and begin the construction project. Ground-breaking is expected a year from now, with the project completed 18 months later.