Fort Bragg residents and officials are mounting a campaign to prevent their small but beloved satellite community college campus from being mothballed.
"The college is not going away," said Dave Turner, the determined mayor of the coastal city of some 7,000 residents.
Eureka-based College of the Redwoods President Kathy Smith sent shock waves through the former timber town when she recommended that classes at the Fort Bragg campus be suspended for an undetermined period of time, beginning in the fall.
"Hearing the threat to our beloved campus left community members devastated, even demoralized," local college trustee Barbara Rice wrote in the Fort Bragg Advocate News.
On Monday, college officials will hold a meeting at the Fort Bragg town hall to take public comment on proposed suspensions of classes both in Fort Bragg and Garberville.
College officials say the suspension is not a closure, but they have not said when college courses might be reinstated on the campus, located at the south end of Fort Bragg. The college's well-known woodworking program, set in a different location, will not be affected, officials said.
State budget cuts and declining enrollment are among the factors forcing the suspension, according to college officials.
"Not enough students are enrolling to cover the fixed personnel and facility costs," according to a college report on the proposal.
It's a district-wide problem that has forced the college to consider curtailments at other campuses as well, officials said.
Enrollment at the Fort Bragg campus has declined from about 350 full-time equivalent students in 2009 to 172 this year, according to the report.
The college report cites a number of possible reasons for the decline, including an aging population and a change in state funding policies that discourages students from taking classes multiple times for enrichment purposes. Potential students also may have been put off when the college recently faced a challenge to its accreditation, the report states.
Turner said the college itself may have contributed to the decline in enrollment. Over the last several years, the college has cut both courses and staffing at the college.
"The whole campus is a shadow of what it was," he said.
The college is crucial to residents of Fort Bragg, many of whom cannot afford to go away to college, Turner said.
"In Fort Bragg, 69 percent of our students are disadvantaged," he said.
Both college and Fort Bragg officials are suggesting alternatives to a campus closure.
They include increasing distance education, teleconferencing and inviting Mendocino College to provide courses at the campus. The two colleges already share some instructors, officials said.
Turner and some other local officials believe College of the Redwoods should hand over the campus to Mendocino College, which is based in Ukiah and is operated by a different community college district.
Turner said he's met with Mendocino College President Arturo Reyes, who appears open to the possibility.
Reyes said it's a complicated scenario and such a decision would first need to be made by College of the Redwoods.
But "if the situation were presented to us in a way that is beneficial to the Mendocino College district, College of the Redwoods and the community on the coast, we would be open to finding a solution that would be beneficial to everyone," he said.