Will our Chinatown North Beach center survive accreditation?

People come and go from City College’s new Chinatown/North Beach campus at Kearny and Washington streets in San Francisco on Aug. 28, 2012. The site opened in July for summer session and an open house is scheduled for Sept. 21. Photo by Sara Bloomberg/The Guardsman

By Alex Reyes

The Guardsman

Could this be the last issue of The Guardsman ever published?

Normally I don’t engage in catastrophic thinking, but this is the last issue of the semester, and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges releases its verdict in July on the fate of City College.

What if the commission gives a thumbs down?

The term “existential threat” is so overused on cable news and Sunday morning talk shows that it’s given the concept a bad name. It seems to apply in this case, though.

City College’s 14-story Chinatown/North Beach center opened in September 2012. While declaring the new building to be “a smart addition to the landscape,” San Francisco Chronicle architecture writer John King also noted that, “the first meeting held by trustees in a companion four-story building included a vote to bring in a state trustee to oversee [City College’s] operations.”

“In this context,” King wrote, “it is difficult not to view the $138 million campus as an albatross.”

It would be tragic indeed if the Chinatown/North Beach “vertical campus” were to close.

As the website of EHDD, one of the building’s architects, puts it, “The project is a result of over 30 years of grassroots community activism to bring a college campus to a traditionally under-served community. The design process required 10 years of stakeholder buy-in from wide ranging interests such as the San Francisco political community, historic preservationists, and educators.”

A wall display on the ground floor features a multitude of donors who contributed to the development of the Chinatown/North Beach center.

The names of Lillie Wong, who donated over $250,000, and the Robert Joseph Louie Memorial Fund, which contributed between $50,000 and $249,999, are prominently displayed on the first of four panels.

Many Chinatown benevolent associations also contributed, as did businesses, labor unions and an unknown number of “Anonymous” donors. Former City College Chancellor Don Q. Griffin’s name is displayed, as is San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu’s.

At the bottom of the fourth panel, which devotes over 130 lines to $1000 contributors, the City and County of San Francisco thanks its “residents and voters […] for their support in bringing to reality the long-held dream of a permanent home for the Chinatown/North Beach Campus.”

Over 30 years of grassroots activism, for a City College campus that served as such for just two semesters?

The new Chinatown/North Beach campus is 14 floors high and provides some spectacular views of San Francisco. Photo by Sara Bloomberg/The Guardsman

City College has been in business since 1935. City College employs thousands of people and educates tens of thousands each year. Many people who were trained at the school now work and have worked in San Francisco as firefighters, police officers, artists, chefs, journalists and nurses.

In addition to the vital role it plays in San Francisco’s economy, the public education mission of a vibrant City College well represents the generous and humane spirit of the City and County’s namesake.

The decades-long community spirit that led to the opening of the Chinatown/North Beach center less than a year ago is another example of the best San Francisco has to offer.

Windows face in all directions on the top 14th floor of Chinatown/North Beach.

The view to the north is dominated by Telegraph Hill and the lovely Coit Tower. Clothes hang below on lines strung on a rooftop at the corner of Kearny and Jackson Streets. Rooftop and other high gardens abound. The blue of the bay and the brown hills of Marin tantalize the senses.

Who will look from these windows in the future?

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