'The heart of the college': COD readies to reopen its own library as part of larger renovation project

Sherry Barkas
Palm Springs Desert Sun

College of the Desert students will have a library on campus for the first time in 25 years when the doors swing open Monday on a newly refurbished Hilb building.

“We stripped it to its bare bones,” COD Superintendent/President Joel Kinnamon said during the State of the College address on Wednesday.

“It once again stands in prominence,” Kinnamon said.

The three-story building first opened in 1964 and served as the campus library until 1995. The college has since shared the Palm Desert Public Library building, on the eastern edge of the COD campus.

Named in honor of its benefactors, Jeane and Justin Hilb, the building and the courtyard fountain in front of it are considered the “heart” of the COD campus.

The Hilb building, campus building C and the quad, including the International Fountain of Knowledge – dubbed the “center campus redevelopment”project – have together undergone nearly $40 million in renovations, paid for with Measure CC and Measure B funds.

Built 35 years ago, the fountain’s renovation is nearly complete and expected to be flowing again soon.

“This project reestablishes the Hilb Library and surrounding area as the heart of the college…,” Kinnamon said.

“The courtyard features the entrance to the Hilb and the International Fountain of Knowledge, a focal point for the college which was originally funded by Dr. Reynaldo J. Carreon, who dedicated is life to furthering education and creating opportunities for local Latino students,” Kinnamon said.

“These locations have provided a place of peaceful relaxation and energizing conversation for students, faculty and visitors for decades and will continue to do so for years to come,” he said. 

About 200 people attended the annual State of the College address, held at the campus amphitheater with a clear view of the Hilb building behind Kinnamon as he spoke.

The Hilb has been rebuilt to environmentally sustainable standards, offering more natural lighting for students to study by, while maintaining its mid-century modern style.

It is double the size of the former library, offers more space for students to study together, as well as computer areas and library services. The building also will be the new home for the Tutoring and Academic Skills Center.

People tour the newly refurbished Hilb Library following the College of the Desert State of the College address at the campus in Palm Desert, Calif., on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

Five other takeaways from State of the College

1.  Record number of graduates: In 2019, COD conferred 1,576 degrees and certificates – a 70% increase since 2012 – with 94% of graduates from the Coachella Valley. The college, “the fastest-growing community college in the state,” had more than 18,000 students enrolled in the 2018-19 academic year.

2. plEDGE program: 1,822 students have taken advantage of the program, which offers Coachella Valley high school graduates two years of tuition-free college, if they attend COD full-time and make a commitment to perform 10 hours of community service each year to local charities. Started in 2017, the program saw its first graduates last spring and has been extended for 2020 high school graduates.

3. West valley campus: Construction of the new 29-acre Palm Springs College of the Desert campus, at the former Palm Springs Mall location off Farrell Drive between Baristo Road and Tahquitz Canyon, is expected to start in 2020 and open in 2023. The campus will offer programs in hospitality and culinary arts, film and digital media, health care and sustainable technologies. Plans call for a boutique hotel and restaurant and teaching kitchen, giving students actual experience working in hospitality.

4. Automotive and Advanced Transportation Facility: “Roadrunner Motors” will have a new home off the COD campus, in a state-of-the-art facility being created at Perez Road and Highway 111 in Cathedral City, adjacent to the Cathedral City Auto Park. The architect has been selected and the facility is on track to be open in the next three years. The center, a collaboration with Cathedral City, will provide internship and work opportunities for students.  

5. Dreamer Resource Center: A new dedicated space on campus where students born in another country but raised in the United States can receive academic advising, counseling and referrals for citizens to navigate the process to obtaining a higher education. The state has helped fund the center through the California Campus Catalyst Fund and has already assisted more than 900 students.

Peggy Cravens, a College of the Desert supporter, attends the College of the Desert State of the College address at the campus in Palm Desert, Calf., on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

Kinnamon also paid an emotional tribute to Vernon Kozlen, a member of the first class of students to attend College of the Desert when it opened in 1962, who died last month.

“Vernon never forgot the important role the College of the Desert played in his life. He said the College of the Desert was there for him when he needed it most and he showed his appreciation by being an ardent supporter of both the college and its students,” said Kinnamon, who paused between words as he fought back tears.

“Vernon and his late wife, Paula, demonstrated their commitment and passion through generous donations of their time and financial support,” Kinnamon said. “His presence will be truly missed.”

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at sherry.barkas@thedesertsun.com or (760) 778-4694. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherry