College Campus Will Help Norco Make the Grade, Officials Say

Times Staff Writer

On a grassy hillside near the center of town, Mike Maas sees lecture halls and laboratories, ball fields and business students.

On the streets nearby, Ron Cano envisions bookstores and bike shops, restaurants and--most important--revenue.

Maas, a vice president of the Riverside Community College District, heads the planning for a 142-acre, comprehensive campus that is scheduled to begin offering classes in Norco in the fall of 1989.

Cano, Norco's city manager, already has added the planned campus to his arsenal for marketing the city's economic development program, using it to persuade potential developers that Norco isn't just for horses anymore.

"You don't just bring education when you open a campus like this," Maas said. "You bring in employment, you bring in recreational facilities, you bring in cultural facilities and activities."

Norco is in the midst of an aggressive effort to increase its tax revenues by attracting new industry and commercial activity. In a city that is primarily residential and decidedly equestrian, services like police and fire protection, street and sewer improvements and park and trail maintenance are just too expensive to be covered by property taxes alone, city officials said.

Increasing the Tax Base

So they are banking on a new auto mall, an entertainment-oriented retail center and other projects that will generate increased property and sales tax revenue.

The auto mall alone could bring the city $1.5 million in sales tax revenue, and a housing development proposed on the west side of the campus could add $250,000 to Norco's annual property tax income, Cano said.

Combined with other retail development on the Interstate 15-Hamner Avenue corridor, that would mean "a tremendous boost in our economic base," the city manager said.

The college campus would help by lending prestige to Norco and by bolstering its claim of being well-situated in the fast-growing Inland Empire.

"The presence of the community college has helped us market the auto mall and other commercial developments we're working on now," Cano said. "It helps get investors and developers to look at Norco seriously."

Fueling a Trend

The new college can also help attract industry in more direct ways. It will provide a steady supply of trained graduates for hire, and offer career-enhancement and training programs for existing employees.

The Inland Empire is an attractive area for companies looking for cheap building sites and nearby affordable housing for employees, Maas said, predicting that the college will not only capitalize on that trend but also help to fuel it.

Courses in management and such high-technology fields as electronics will be in high demand, the college district's master plan predicts. Norco's economic base already includes the U.S. Navy Fleet Analysis Center and a pair of high-tech firms; neighboring Corona has attracted a wide range of industry in recent years.

Criminal-justice programs also will be a staple of the new campus curriculum, partly because three large state prisons--the California Rehabilitation Center, the California Institution for Women and the California Institution for Men--are in or near Norco.

In all, the college will bring 8,000 students to Norco, Maas estimates.

"We can take advantage of the fact that thousands of people . . . are coming into our city," Cano said. "They need to eat. They need to shop. Maybe we can get them to spend their money in Norco."

To help the process along, the city helped pay for a required study of the environmental impact of development in an area that includes the college campus and proposed homes nearby. Norco also has agreed unofficially to extend 3rd Street past the planned campus.

Land for the college was donated by the U.S. Department of Education and General Services Administration from surplus Navy property, Maas said. Although classes are slated to begin there in just 2 1/2 years, the campus will be built in phases over 15 to 20 years, at an estimated cost of $50 million.

Much of that money, Maas said, will come from private donations, cooperative programs with area industries, and income generated by the nonprofit RCCD Development Corp., which will lease property that the college district owns but doesn't plan to use for educational purposes.

Part of 3-Campus College

The Norco campus will become part of a three-campus college known as Riverside Community College, Maas said. "I hope it will make (Norco) an educational, recreational and cultural center."

The college also will include 70-year-old Riverside City College--the state's sixth oldest community college--and another $50-million campus the district plans to build on donated land in Moreno Valley.

Each campus will have a comprehensive academic program, Maas said, but some facilities and activities--such as athletics--will be shared among the three campuses.

By organizing its three campuses as a single college, Maas said, the district can save money by maintaining "one central administration, . . . a very lean districtwide staff."

But each campus will have an identity of its own, Maas promised, with a heavy emphasis on the interests of its community.

In Norco, that means horses.

"Courses reflecting the special interests of the community such as equestrian skills, animal husbandry and related instruction will be included in the curriculum" at the Norco campus, the district's master plan states.

Plans also show an equestrian trail on the Norco campus perimeter--an amenity that few other community colleges need to provide.

The Riverside Community College District encompasses 440 square miles of northwest Riverside County, including the cities of Corona, Norco, Riverside and Moreno Valley. The district's 1985 population of 409,000 is expected to increase to more than 600,000 by the year 2000.

The district now enrolls about 15,200 students. It projects an enrollment of 48,000 by the year 2000.

The district operates Riverside City College and offers additional classes at Corona, La Sierra and Moreno Valley high schools, March Air Force Base and the Riverside County Academy of Justice in Jurupa.

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