Chemeketa seeks $140 million to expand career education, renovate campus buildings

Salem-area voters will decide in November whether to greenlight spending $140 million to modernize Chemeketa Community College buildings and add a trades center in Salem to expand career technical education programs.

The college’s Board of Education unanimously voted on June 18 to place a bond measure on the November ballot for Chemeketa’s district, which includes all of Marion and Polk counties, as well as most of Yamhill County and a portion of Linn County.

The bond replaces other Chemeketa bonds that are expiring, so property owners wouldn’t see an increase in their tax rate if the measure is approved, the college said.

Bond money would be spent on facilities in Salem, Woodburn and Brooks, with most of the money earmarked for the main Salem campus.If it is approved, property owners in the college district would pay 27 cents per $100,000 of assessed property value for the next 15 to 20 years to fund the projects. That means an annual payment of about $61 for an average Salem home assessed at $224,430.

If voters do not approve the measure, tax rates would be lowered when the current bonds expire in 2026.

The college has about 7,100 full-time students and has seen a dramatic drop in enrollment over the past decade, mirroring a trend acrossOregon. Enrollment has stabilized with a slight increase through the winter term of 2024, according to an April budget presentation.

The bulk of the bond money, about $100 million, would be used to renovate three buildings in Salem, as well as athletic fields. That includes seismic upgrades to building 7, adding space for physical fitness and health programs, and creating a new community and student wellness center at a cost of $40 million. 

Building 2, the college’s main building where students handle administrative tasks like financial aid and advising, would get a $17 million overhaul to improve services, the college said.

A $43 million renovation would focus on classroom spaces in Salem’s building 3 and technology upgrades across Chemeketa campuses.

Salem’s Building 33 would be transformed into a new trades center to expand career technical education programs. That, alongside a renovation of the existing Brooks center for career programs, would cost $8.25 million.

“This new building will complement our existing facilities and trades programs such as welding and applied tech, while providing us the opportunity to be nimble and responsive to employer needs,” said Aaron Hunter, the college’s chief financial officer, in a statement.

The Woodburn campus would add a science lab at a cost of $250,000, meaning students would no longer have to travel to Salem to complete lab science requirements for degrees.

Another $15 million would cover deferred maintenance around campus, including HVAC systems and parking lot upgrades.

The package includes $16.5 million to cover unexpected expenses, including rising construction costs.

The college doesn’t have a timeline for the projects and will create one if voters approve the measure in November, college spokeswoman Marie Hulett said.

The board voted after reviewing polling data this spring showing likely voters in the district had an overwhelmingly favorable view of the college. 

About 67% of those polled in December said they would probably or definitely vote for a bond measure, according to a report the college commissioned from Cygnal, a polling and analytics firm.

The vote comes as multiple local governments in the Salem area contemplate ballot measures to fund operations as costs rise faster than property taxes.. 

The city of Salem and Salem-Keizer School District both saw substantial budget cuts this year.

The Salem-Keizer School District recently ran a poll asking voters about support for a hypothetical property tax increase to support school operations, though there’s no immediate plan to put such a measure on the ballot. District leaders have said the state of Oregon needs to address an outdated funding formula which is inadequate to pay for the range of social services modern schools are expected to provide.

A city revenue task force that’s been meeting for months last week recommended a voter-approved property tax increase to fund city operations, among other options. Such a measure would require a city council vote before going on the ballot.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.