Mike Newman -- the "new man" on the Eureka City Council (one of four new members, actually) -- stirred up some shit at his first council meeting, on Dec. 7, when he announced that he wasn't comfortable with the scheduled purchase of the abandoned Jefferson Elementary School site. The campus has been in escrow since September, when the previous city council voted unanimously to purchase the property from Eureka City Schools. This consensus was reached (reticently, by some) after years of work by the Westside Community Group along with staff of the city's community development and redevelopment departments -- not to mention a heated tête-à-tête with College of the Redwoods, whose president and board had also expressed interest in purchasing the grounds.
At the Dec. 21 council meeting, members of the Westside Community Group went ballistic, walking out in a huff as Newman voiced his concerns with the deal. Ultimately the council voted 3 to 1 (with passionate dissent from Linda Atkins, the sole holdover from the previous council, and in the absence of Melinda Ciarabellini, who had not yet been confirmed) to hold off on closing the deal pending a closer look at the financials. This move sparked rumors that the fix was in -- that CR had secretly arranged to sneak in the back door and take ownership of the school while the new council members served as the doorman.
Today, CR issued the following press release, which patently denies any such clandestine arrangement. But neither do they rule out the possibility for renewed interest in the future, should everything line up just right. Look for more on all this in next week's Journal. (Click "more" to read the press release.)
"With the newly formed Eureka City Council considering its options with the city's proposed purchase of the Jefferson School building, College of the Redwoods wants to make it clear to everyone that it is not involved in any negotiations to buy the property," said CR President Jeff Marsee. "CR has not been in any negotiations regarding Jefferson School since the CR Board of Trustees voted to withdraw its purchase offer on March 17, 2010."
Marsee said CR would not be involved in any negotiations with Eureka City Schools regarding Jefferson School unless the City of Eureka decides to not buy the property and the CR Board of Trustees expresses an interest in reviewing the issue. The trustees also consider it essential [that] the community be supportive of the purchase.
Marsee added that CR currently leases the Eureka Downtown Instructional Site on a yearly basis. With that lease set to expire in fall 2012, the CR Trustees have asked the college's administration to conduct a thorough survey of potential available properties to house a new downtown instructional site in Eureka. That survey process will go through the college's District-wide Facilities Planning Committee.
The possibility remains that CR would negotiate a new lease to remain at the Downtown Site, Marsee said.
"For more than five years the Eureka Downtown Instructional Site has steadily grown and provided increasing educational access by expanding its variety of classes and programs to the community," Marsee said.
CR conducts a number of successful operations at the Downtown Site, including for-credit general education and career technical classes, community education courses, as well as contract education, business training and CR-Plus (for those over 50) programs. With the expansion of new career technical education courses at CR - such as water and wastewater operations, paramedic, management supervision and solar photovoltaic and solar thermal installation - the college is looking for space to house the new programs.
"CR respects the purchase process that the Eureka City Council is undergoing with Eureka City Schools and the west side neighborhood's proposal for Jefferson School," Marsee said.