Students, Teachers Protest Civic Center Closure at the City College of San Francisco

City College of San Francisco students and teachers marched to San Francisco City Hall on Thursday to protest the abrupt closure of the college’s Civic Center campus.

The Civic Center was closed in early January, several months after it was found to be seismically unsafe and in danger of collapse. The building, which was originally built as an elementary school, has stood on the site since 1910 and is rife with other issues, including asbestos tiles, antiquated heating and plumbing systems, and a leaky redwood roof. Renovations are expected to cost $13 million.

Even though the report on the Civic Center’s unstable condition came out in August 2014, classes continued to be held on-site throughout the fall semester. There was little indication that they might not continue into 2015. But three days before the new semester began, CCSF administration announced that the building would be closed and students relocated to the college’s Chinatown and Mission campuses, both of which are two miles away.

“Here we are trying to save this college for all of the different, very diverse students and their needs In San Francisco,” said Alisa Messer, CCSF English instructor and faculty union political director. “And this campus, at which ESL classes are primarily taught, was summarily closed and students displaced in what is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in San Francisco.”

The closure has effectively disenfranchised nearly half of the Civic Center’s former students, organizers say. In an email, march organizers wrote that enrollment at the Civic Center Campus dropped from nearly 600 students to less than 300 after it was closed. Faculty and students advocates say that students have financial and transportation issues that are preventing them from attending classes at other locations.

CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton did not respond to a request to confirm the enrollment drop.

The Civic Center Campus drew its student population from the surrounding Tenderloin neighborhood, which is home to many low-income and immigrant families. While much of San Francisco has gentrified, the Tenderloin neighborhood, where the Civic Center Campus is located, has resisted that trend. Students at the Civic Center were able to take English or vocational classes for free.

“The Civic Center Campus has traditionally been the place that helps people bridge the digital divide through its excellent and free computer training program, and it’s also the place where new residents to San Francisco can take ESL classes for free. It’s an amazing resource when we’re talking about building social equality,” said James Tracy of the Community Housing Partnership, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to finding supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals and families.

For students living in the Tenderloin, the Civic Center Campus was conveniently located—close enough that they could work or care for their families nearby. Other CCSF locations require either a car or public transportation to access, which may effectively make them prohibitive to those students who do not have the time or the funds to make longer trips to get to class.

The Civic Center Campus closure is yet another instance of a sense of increasing confusion at CCSF’s various campuses for students and faculty. Enrollments dropped substantially after the Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges (ACCJC) threatened to revoke the college’s accreditation in 2013. Some students misunderstood the implication of the ACCJC’s threat and dropped out, believing that their CCSF credits would be worthless.

Since then, the situation has not gotten much easier on students, Messer said.

“Early on … they thought the college was maybe going to close and that they needed to take as many units as humanly possible and get it done, which isn’t the best situation for them to be in,” she said. “I think now we have students who just don’t know what’s happening and what this means for what’s next.”

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@divereeducation.com.