SOLEDAD — Hartnell College has broken ground on its new Soledad Education Center and celebrated the start of construction this month with a groundbreaking ceremony that was attended by more than 100 community members, local students and elected officials.
Scheduled to open in spring 2021, the 16,750-square-foot multipurpose educational center is being built on 3.7 acres at the northeast corner of Metz Road and Orchard Lane, across from San Vicente Elementary School in Soledad. The building will include four classrooms and both wet and dry science laboratories to support STEM, health care and agriculture training, in addition to a Student Success Center, courtyard and community room.
About 95 percent of the center’s electrical needs will be met through solar panels installed on the facility.
The Nov. 8 ceremony at the new Soledad Education Center’s site featured a dozen speakers, ranging from college officials to high school students to mayors from south Monterey County.
Aurelio Salazar Jr., president of the Board of Trustees for the Hartnell Community College District, welcomed everyone in attendance and was followed by remarks from Hartnell Superintendent-President Patricia Hsieh.
“We are here to collaborate together to offer our students the opportunity to start their higher education,” said Hsieh, adding that the new Soledad facility and other upcoming projects have been a true collaborative effort between the college and the respective communities.
Hartnell recently hosted public forums in King City, Soledad, Gonzales and Castroville to seek input from residents and employers about how the new centers can best meet the long-term needs of the college and Salinas Valley communities.
“We want to make sure our students will get good pay and very rewarding professional careers eventually, and that is our goal,” Hsieh said. “… We want to encourage many of them with available job opportunities in the local community to stay here to give back all they learned to these wonderful communities and support them where they grew up.”
Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma gave special recognition to former Hartnell Superintendent-President Dr. Willard Lewallen for his help in getting the Soledad project off the ground.
“Dr. Lewallen, my thanks to you publicly, and I would like to give him a great round of applause for all that he’s done for us,” said Ledesma, igniting an eruption of applause from the crowd. “… On behalf of the City, I just want to thank you. We’re excited for what’s going to happen here in Soledad.”
Ledesma also thanked Hartnell District 6 Board Trustee Erica Padilla-Chavez, who spoke during the ceremony as well, and her husband Alejandro Chavez, Soledad mayor pro tem, for making the project possible.
“I want to acknowledge both of them, because without the Chavezes, we would not have Hartnell College here today,” he said. “… Erica said it best: Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield — you will see that the kids (and adult learners) will really utilize this campus.”
Gonzales Mayor Maria Orozco, who graduated with honors from Hartnell’s re-entry program, proudly spoke about her achievement through the college and said the new Soledad campus will benefit all south Monterey County residents.
“We would like to thank Hartnell for a continued partnership with the City of Gonzales, especially in making sure that our students have an opportunity to achieve and further their education goals,” Orozco said. “… A South County campus here in Soledad will be a great benefit not only to Gonzales residents, but to other South County residents who also want to attend classes to achieve their goals.”
Greenfield Mayor Pro Tem Yanely Martinez then spoke on behalf of Greenfield Mayor Lance Walker, who was unable to attend the ceremony.
“This is huge,” Martinez said. “This is access for our students more than anything, for my children. I have four kids myself and I just think of them, but not only them, my community and South County. This is a moment for South County.”
Martinez shared her speaking time with fellow Greenfield resident, Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez.
“Congratulations to the entire community and the city council here for your wise investment,” Lopez said. “… The kids here know that this investment is in them, and you all made that happen. Thank you for making that investment in our kids.”
Hartnell student Angelita Cisneros, an agricultural production and plant science major, talked about the difficulty she encountered regarding transportation when she took college classes while attending Soledad High School.
“As a sophomore in high school, I took the challenge of taking a manufacturing class at Hartnell with three other junior students, but there was a challenge: it was transportation,” Cisneros said. “Transportation was a huge problem for me and the three other students … and I don’t want to see future students struggling with that.”
A new campus in Soledad will help alleviate that problem for many local students, like Cisneros, who struggle to find transportation and the time to travel up to 30 minutes to attend classes in either Salinas or King City.
“We are celebrating the groundbreaking of Soledad’s Hartnell institution today,” Cisneros said. “Future Panthers will have the opportunity to stay at their hometown without transportation problems or worry that they won’t make it to class because it takes 30 minutes. I wouldn’t want that to be an obstacle for future generations of this valley.”
Soledad’s campus will also include a bus pullout, enabling regular stops from Monterey-Salinas Transit, which now offers free rides to Hartnell students throughout the day at any destination within its service area.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Tim Vanoli, superintendent of Soledad Unified School District; Soledad High students Amber Solorio and Bryana Harrell, representing the Soledad Youth Council; Anna Velazquez, district director for state Sen. Anna Caballero; and Ricardo Estrada, field representative for Assemblymember Robert Rivas.
Mostafa Ghous, dean of South County education services at Hartnell’s King City Education Center, also attended the groundbreaking that Friday morning.
The new Soledad Education Center is part of the first phase of construction funded through Measure T, a $167 million bond measure approved in November 2016 by voters in the Hartnell Community College District. The project’s general contractor is Dilbeck and Sons, with In Studio Architecture as the design architect.
An expansion of the King City Education Center, also a Measure T project, will double the size of the existing facility to about 25,000 square feet. The addition includes two new classrooms, study and computer rooms, wet and dry science laboratories, a Student Success Center and community room.
Hartnell is planning a groundbreaking for the King City expansion in December.
Other Measure T projects on the horizon include an education center in Castroville, serving north Monterey County, and a new nursing and health sciences building on Hartnell’s Main Campus in Salinas.