News Release Index
Oct. 15, 2009
Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center
Background to a Dream: The Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center
In the spring of 2007, College of the Canyons officials were joined by a collection of Santa Clarita Valley civic leaders, community members and college supporters on a plot of dusty land overlooking the 154-acre Valencia campus. “Our goal was to create an educational center based on partnerships,” said Chancellor Dr. Dianne Van Hook on that bright spring morning. “Today is a symbol of what persistence, dedication and never giving up can achieve.” Moments later Dr. Van Hook joined the college’s Board of Trustees to plunge a set of ceremonial shovels into the earth to officially break ground on construction of the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center. But for Dr. Van Hook, the dream behind the University Center originally started more than 20 years ago, right around the time of her arrival at College of the Canyons in 1988 when she began exploring with local universities the possibility of hosting upper-division classes on the College of the Canyons campus. It would take 11 years for the time to be right to move forward on creating her dream.
The Dream Gains Momentum
In the spring of 1999, College of the Canyons officials delivered a presentation to the Newhall Land management team about where the college was headed and what the future had in store. The concept of a University Center was brought to the table, much to the interest of Tom Lee, then chairman and CEO of Newhall Land. Lee jumped on the idea and encouraged Dr. Van Hook and the college to pursue their dream. A month later, Mr. Lee and Dr. Van Hook were off to Metropolitan Community College in Harris, Texas to view and tour the University Center that had been established at that community college. Over the next 36 hours, their hopes and excitement for the project grew, prompting them to develop an action plan with rather small beginnings, on the back of a napkin, during the flight home. In short, it was decided that the college would survey residents and local business leaders to gauge support for the University Center concept.
The survey results encouraged Dr. Van Hook. More than 90 percent of those surveyed believed that the University Center would be important or very important to the development of the Santa Clarita Valley, while nearly 56 percent of employers surveyed believed the University Center would be important or very important to the development of their workforces.
It was then that the dream began moving toward becoming a reality. The University Center would be the college’s solution to the lack of upper-division, graduate school and continuing education access available to the expanding population and increasing business base in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Building Toward a Dream
With a vision and a planning team already in place, the college next began identifying potential revenue sources and moving forward on multiple tracks. The College of the Canyons Foundation was the first to come aboard, helping to raise private funds for the innovative project. At the same time, Dr. Van Hook identified and secured the support of two project chairs -- highly regarded, respected, accomplished, community-minded CEOs -- Tom Lee and Lou Garasi, president of Gruber Systems. Shortly after, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon came on board, joining the project’s leadership team as an honorary chair.
The University Center capital campaign officially began in 2001 with the COC Foundation’s family campaign, in which 99.6 percent of the college’s staff, and all of the Board of Trustees, supported the effort through a personal contribution. Local leaders and businesses then began to step forward with large donations and pledges. Congressman McKeon took the next step, helping the college acquire roughly $2.3 million in federal funding to help open and equip the college’s Interim University Center, which opened in 2002 -- proving such a concept would be viable. Next, the William S. Hart Union High School District, whose Academy of the Canyons is housed in the University Center, signed on to help. Later in 2001, the college was able to designate the University Center project as an allowable expenditure on Measure C -- the $82.1 million general-obligation bond that local voters approved that fall -- with 76 percent of those surveyed in the bond feasibility study indicating they would support such a project.
By 2002 the groundwork had been laid and Dr. Van Hook and the college were eager to take the next step. So Dr. Van Hook began talking about the University Center concept to contacts at the state level. Eventually, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office verbally approved the scope of the project, with the understanding that Dr. Van Hook and the college would need to file a final capital project submittal by July 1, 2004. So it was while on vacation, from a phone booth at Tom’s Place resort high in the Eastern Sierras in the spring of 2004, that Dr. Van Hook began working with Jim Schrage, vice president, facilities planning, operations and construction at the college, to begin developing the proper plans and paperwork.
The course of a normal project is to submit the initial project proposal, and then resubmit a final proposal the following year, after the initial proposal has been approved. The challenge here was that the district was allowed to skip the initial proposal and move straight to the final proposal process, which meant needing to complete all of the necessary programming, design and detailing -- a process that even on an aggressive schedule consumes about six months of effort -- in less than two months. A prime example of Dr. Van Hook’s “if you can dream it, you can do it” mantra in action, College of the Canyons embarked on what has become its trademark approach to big projects, and was able to submit the final proposal to the state on July 1. As a result, the college was initially approved for $9 million in state funding.
Next, Dr. Van Hook and the college’s administration were able to convince state legislators to modify language in the 2006 statewide education facilities bond -- Prop 1D, to be placed on the November ballot -- which would allow for the funding of collaborative projects/joint-use facilities like the University Center. By the time voters went to the polls that November, the college had secured a total of $21 million in funding for the University Center project in the 2006-07 Governor’s budget -- pending passage of 1D. In addition to Prop 1D, the college had launched a bond campaign of its own, Measure M -- the $160 million general-obligation bond proposed to local voters on the same November ballot -- which would provide an additional $10 million to the project fund. Both bonds passed, and the dream finally took form, as College of the Canyons would now have the funding needed to move forward with construction.
The Naming of a Dream
In the spring of 2007, the Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to officially name the University Center building the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center -- citing the chancellor’s tireless commitment to enhancing access to education, her belief in the power of dreaming big and never giving up, and her premise that we, as individuals and institutions, become what we give ourselves the power to be. In receiving the honor, Dr. Van Hook recognized the Board of Trustees as well as a collection of college staff members and administrators, community members and project partners who helped to make the University Center dream come true. Upon full completion of the University Center -- expected in November -- the official dedication of the building to Dr. Van Hook will take place on January 30, 2010, in the University Center.
The Dream Finally Realized
Today, the 110,000-square-foot, high-technology Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center stands on the same patch of land where the ceremonial shovels first broke ground. Hovering high above Interstate 5, positioned to command a spectacular view of the valley’s majestic mountains and blue-sky horizon, the University Center has been designed to welcome all those with a desire to succeed. Having already established partnerships with the University of La Verne, Brandman (formerly Chapman) University, UCLA Extension, National University, California State University, Bakersfield, and California State University Northridge, the college now has the facility and classroom space to begin attracting more partners and subsequently offer more program and degree options. In all, the University Center will house up to 10 partner institutions and offer more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and credential programs. In addition, the college’s Foundation, Human Resources Office, Professional Development program, Teaching and Learning Institute, Employee Training Institute, Small Business Development Center and other district administration offices will all move into the University Center.
“Part of the University Center’s original design was to bring the college’s faculty, staff and educational partners together to create a hub for an interactive network of businesses needing training and students needing education, a place where innovation can thrive,” said Dr. Van Hook.