Clatsop Community College’s Jerome Avenue Campus spans 7 developed acres and nearly 100 feet in elevation gain on Coxcomb Hill. The vegetation can be a challenge to keep up with, even more so for a workforce of people with disabilities trying to maintain its many beds, lawns and hillside plants installed along with the $27 million Jerome Campus Redevelopment Project.
The college, which embarked on a program with Coast Rehabilitation Services over the past year to provide people with disabilities jobs maintaining its landscaping, mutually agreed with the nonprofit to nix the contract after the weeds started encroaching and both sides concluded the terrain was too much for its workforce.
The college, now in its new fiscal year as of Tuesday, seeks an operation to make the campus grounds look as pretty as the sweeping views of the Columbia River it commands.
“I think the effort with Coast Rehabilitation was worth trying,” said Greg Dorcheus, who heads a trimmed-down maintenance staff at the college. “I think that it was a very good effort. It was an opportunity to not only try to fill the needs we have on campus, but also serve a larger purpose in the community.”
Dalan Moss of CRS said it was a matter of not having the right workforce to meet the needs of the college, which upgraded the prominence of landscaping during the campus’ redevelopment to create a more inviting field.
“It’s an intense campus,” said Dorcheus, pointing out that a person can be standing above Towler and below Columbia halls at the same time. “It’s labor-intensive. There’s a lot of uphill, downhill, a lot of stuff that has to be done by hand and by line-trimmers and things of that nature because of the nature of the terrain.”
The existing contract, he added, was between $1,200 and $1,300 a month, whereas the new contract might be $1,500 to $1,600.
President Lawrence Galizio arrived in 2010 after the landscaping had been installed. It was planned at a time when the college had a more robust staff, including a full-time landscaper.
“At that point, there was a full maintenance crew, and I don’t think anyone anticipated the Great Recession, and the cuts to facilities that would take place,” said Galizio.
The college, said JoAnn Zahn, vice president of finance and operations, spent more than $91,000 on installation, materials and a year of maintenance for its new landscaping. But Dorcheus said it lost its full-time groundskeeper about two years ago.
Other than finding a new landscape contractor this month to replace CRS, he and Galizio said, the college is bringing in jail work crews this spring and summer and has two federal work-study students who started Tuesday.
The college, said Dorcheus, focused largely on naturally occurring plants on its hillsides. The idea is to make the them look similar to the more than 20 acres of rugged, unbuildable wilderness the college owns east of its campus and directly to the north of the Astoria Column.
Baffled by weeds
Gin Laughery, a Master Gardener with Oregon State University’s Extension Service who has lived next to the college for seven years, said the landscaping before the Jerome Campus redevelopment was sparse.
“Pretty much all of us in the neighborhood, by proximity were part of that project,” said Laughery, adding that the college’s new landscaping was a positive development that initially was well-kept. Her family donated several of the blood maples that line Lexington Avenue at the heart of campus.
But as the weeds have encroached the last year or two, said Laughery and others in local landscaping circles, they’ve become concerned the college might be losing some of its investment in grounds.
Several interested parties, including Laughery, Daily Astorian Publisher Steve Forrester and Master Gardener Beth Holland held a meeting with the college a year ago, but said they haven’t been seeing a fix to the issue.
“There’s a lot of ways to go about creating a beautiful garden, and my idea would be to start a horticultural program up there again,” said Holland, who lives in Cannon Beach, but manages parts of landscapes around Astoria. She said the college might want a consultant to teach proper maintenance before finding a new contractor, or contact Tongue Point Job Corps Center, whose landscaping students practice throughout the community.
“This is not Amherst or Harvard University,” said Galizio, who, with his staff, has faced cutting millions from the budget in recent years. “We don’t have money lying around for landscape consultants.”
The college has made a strategic decision, he added, to cut facilities funding and focus on educating its students. As for the possibility of a horticulture program, Galizio said there’s a lot that goes into starting a program, and the college is focusing on high-demand programs that will best aid students, such as paramedic, behavioral counseling and others in the allied health field. The programs, he added, would fit in the college’s proposed Health and Wellness Center, the next phase of the Jerome Campus Redevelopment Project. The college has approached Tongue Point, he added, but the landscaping program was already booked on other local projects.
Dorcheus, meanwhile, promised that anyone visiting the campus this summer will see an improvement in landscaping over the coming months.
Help Clean Up
Clatsop Community College holds a volunteer cleanup day throughout campus from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 2 for people older than 18. Meet in the open space between Clatsop’s Dora Badollet Library and Patriot Hall. Bring rakes, clippers, trowels, weeding tools, buckets, gloves and sunscreen. Wear comfortable clothes, sturdy shoes and hats. Confirm participation in the cleanup day by emailing Patricia Warren, CCC’s director of college advancement, at firstname.lastname@example.org