Chemistry professor John Zikopoulos is all apologies on a tour of Mesa Community College’s physical sciences building. Walking the halls is like running an obstacle course. Science experiments and students crowd the passageways shared by geology, physics and chemistry.
"We’re kind of busting at the seams," Zikopoulos said.
It’s a familiar scenario in the Maricopa Community College District, where enrollment growth is taking a toll on facilities and resources at all 10 of its institutions. Enrollment has nearly doubled in the last decade, and officials expect it will reach 400,000 in six years.
District officials are turning to taxpayers for relief. The governing board is expected soon to put a $951.3 million bond issue on the Nov. 2 ballot to fund capital improvements. If approved, property taxes will increase for Maricopa County residents $15.83 per $100,000 in valuation.
"As our growth continues to explode, we have no other place to turn," Chancellor Rufus Glasper said.
Community colleges in the East Valley would receive more than a third of the $951.3 million generated by the bonds for new buildings and upgrades — $111 million for MCC, $87.8 million for Chandler-Gilbert Community College, $62.5 million for Scottsdale Community Col- lege, $72.6 million for Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix and $64.5 million for Tempebased Rio Salado College.
District officials anticipate that some of the East Valley’s growing population will opt for the community colleges as more affordable alternatives to the state’s public universities, which have doubled tuition in the past two years.
MCC President Larry Christiansen is preparing for 50,000 students by 2020. The bulk of the $111 million will fund four additional buildings at the Southern Avenue and Dobson Road campus and expansions at the Red Mountain Campus.
Christiansen’s master plan focuses on improving core classes by expanding classroom space.
"We are a transfer giant," Christiansen said. "I need excellent sections of English and the humanities, mathematics and the sciences so our students can go to Arizona State University and compete."
The new buildings will house academic clusters of science and mathematics, communications and humanities, performing and fine arts, and health and wellness. Christiansen also plans to refurbish structures such as the physical sciences building, which saw its last renovation 25 years ago.
"The desks are like the ones we had in driver’s ed," said pharmacy major Chris Brennan, 21.
Engineering major Mike Munroe said, "It’s hard to balance your books on a desk the size of a piece of paper."
Creating a collegiate atmosphere is another objective. Students need collaborative spaces to study and socialize, Christiansen said.
Christiansen has also pledged $10 million for a campus in downtown Mesa that will be built through public and private partnerships.
If the bond issue doesn’t pass, the district may have to look at alternatives such as capping enrollment, said Art DeCabooter, president of Scottsdale Community College.
"I have no capital money," Christiansen said. "Our ability to respond to the growth will be hugely curtailed" if the bond issue doesn’t pass.