College’s Sierra Vista campus look changing

Published on Sunday, March 15, 2009
Copyright Sierra Vista Herald

By Ted Morris
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SIERRA VISTA — The local campus of Cochise College is undergoing a dramatic expansion and reconfiguration.

Take a walking tour of the whole Sierra Vista campus if you haven’t lately.

Start at the Andrea Cracchiolo Library and go east. Suddenly, you are in the midst of the new quad.

On its north flank, a two-story, 33,000-square-foot steel-and-glass Student Services Building is rising. On the south is a complex containing a Learning Commons and Academic Building.

A construction worker cuts metal while standing high atop the new Student Services building at Cochise College’s Sierra Vista campus. (Ed Honda-Herald/Review)A construction worker cuts metal while standing high atop the new Student Services building at Cochise College’s Sierra Vista campus. (Ed Honda-Herald/Review)

On the eastern flank is the existing Science Building, which is getting 7,500 square feet of additional classroom and lab space.

“This will change the focus of the campus,” Doris Jensen, dean of the Sierra Vista campus, said last week as her eyes swept the changing skyline from within the new quad.

Traditionally, the center of the Sierra Vista campus has been viewed as the mall between the buildings of the traditional main area or western part of the campus that is closest to Colombo Avenue.

Now the spacious quad will become that center.

The buildings on the north and south of the quad — the Student Services Building, which many are still calling a “student union,” and the Learning Commons and Academic Building — together will cost $12,658,000. The college broke ground for them in October, and they are expected to be in operation this December. Jensen pointed out a healthy-looking 20-foot-tall pine tree that Sundt Construction managed to save next to the 16-foot-tall walls of the Learning Commons and Academic Building as the general contractor is executing architect DLR Group’s design.

After voters failed to accept a ballot measure in November 2007 that would have financed the college’s ambitious Master Facilities Plan through a modest tax hike, the Cochise College Governing Board decided the following month that it could afford to proceed with scaled-down capital improvements projects in Douglas, Sierra Vista and Willcox. Aging facilities were bursting at the seam. There was an urgency, and the college felt it could not wait.

“We’re not building for growth,” Jensen said during her daytime tour, dodging a steady stream of backpacking students as they wended their way from one assignment to the next. The din of circular saws cutting and hammers pounding on steel rang out in the quad.

The total head count, part- and full-time students, this spring is 2,254. That’s up by nearly 100 since last spring.

“In the evenings, I can’t find an extra classroom,” Jensen said, explaining students of all ages are packing the college. In this recession, more than at other times, people are re-tooling their minds for future careers.

Even folks who aren’t necessarily looking for a job but are seeking merely to enrich their minds are pleased with the expansion.

Fifty-eight-year-old Richard Shemanski of Bisbee started welding courses in February as he is learning to sculpt metal. When he first saw the welding lab, Shemanski said it felt “like the promised land.”

The Sierra Vista campus has doubled its total welding facilities space. It has 150 students enrolled in the program this semester.

The welding program is housed in the new Career-Technical Education Building, which also has programs for future EMTs and paramedics. The Career-Technical Education Building opened for business in August. The building is beyond the quad as one walks further east, past the relocated Adult Education Building. The energy demanded by both buildings is augmented by solar power collected from nearby ramadas through an efficiency program offered by Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative Inc. The ramadas themselves will serve as a shady outdoor space for educational purposes.

The Student Services Building will house admissions, advising, academic services, registration, a cashier, a bookstore, student government, food services, testing sites, University of Arizona South advisers and a community room containing 250 tables and 400 chairs in rows.

The Student Services Building replaces a small metal building that had been built in the early 1980s and has since been razed.

“It had exceeded its useful life,” said Frank Dykstra, Cochise College’s director of facilities management and planning.

The Sierra Vista campus has used manufactured, portable buildings since the 1970s. Unofficially and sometimes with a wry smile, college people will refer to them as “P-buildings.” While those trailers are viewed as inadequate facilities, the college is still putting many of them to use. The college’s Center for Economic Research has long been housed in that type of facility.

During the last monsoon, Dykstra’s crews moved six of the “P-buildings” into position to become the new location of the Adult Education Building.

“They moved them as one,” Jensen said, awed at how the crews persevered through difficult muddy conditions.

“The sixth time, he got it moving,” Dykstra said of the worker who used a large machine to lift and tug the cluster to its new home, originally known as the 1000 Building.

“Our maintenance guys are incredible in doing some of this work,” Jensen said.

Denise Merkel, the college’s interim director of Community Outreach and Public Information, said students on the Sierra Vista campus are buzzing with excitement regarding the changes.

“There is a spirit of renewal,” Merkel said.

Herald/Review City Editor Ted Morris can be reached at 515-4614 or by e-mail at



The installation of a storm drain across the Cochise College driveway that was originally planned for several weeks ago has been delayed until Tuesday. The work will take place, and cars will be detoured just past the library on the north side of the Sierra Vista campus. The installation should be limited to one day, and the north entrance should still be used to access parking on the east side of campus. Fencing on the south side of campus soon also will be moved to surround a new parking area that is under construction. Workers anticipate beginning the installation of tile in the new Academic Building classrooms and pouring concrete for the second story and stairs of the Student Union this week. For information, call 417-4148.