Cerro Coso Opens Despite Setbacks in Recovery Efforts


In the wake of the recent earthquakes and aftershocks that began on July 4, 2019, Cerro Coso Community College spent two weeks evaluating buildings and systems, cleaning up debris, and taking care of damage before students and staff could return. Employees returned to the Ridgecrest Campus on Monday, July 22, 2019 prepared for workspace clean-up, and the college opened to students and the public at 1 p.m.

Damage sustained by campus facilities ranged from minimal to more significant. The initial rough estimate of damage provided to the Kern County Fire Department Office of Emergency Services on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 is $2,257,327.

“We know the losses to our communities have been substantial, and our hearts go out to all who were affected,” said Cerro Coso President Jill Board.

The college worked with a consortium of registered professional engineers and architects, the Office of the Department of State Architects (DSA), the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other local, county, state, and federal governments to survey the damage and evaluate the safety of all of its facilities. The final report from the structural engineers declared the following buildings satisfactory for continued use during repairs: Child Development Center, Gymnasium, Main Building, East Wing, Occupation Labs (west wing), Fine Arts (west wing), Electrical building (PV), Observatory, and all three Maintenance and Operations buildings.

Beyond any structural aspects, the college experienced minor to moderate surface damage related to areas that are typically seen in a visual inspection including ceilings, walls, soffits, ducting, and lighting.

There is minimal damage to outdoor spaces, with the exception of two areas the college has already addressed. Cerro Coso lost an iconic piece of sculpture when engineers recommended the removal of the canopy over the fountain located in the courtyard, and the Cerro Coso sign has been fenced off for further assessment.

The administration's focus has always been to ensure the safety of the staff, students, and public.

The college's Learning Resource Center appears to have sustained the most damage. Therefore, college administration focused their efforts on opening the remaining buildings as soon as possible including the Main Building that houses student support services and programs, classrooms, and college administration, the East Wing classroom building, Gymnasium, and Child Development Center. This included the systematic testing and repairs of water, gas, HVAC, elevators, fire suppression, and fire alarms systems.

Cerro Coso addressed all the requirements of the fire marshal and received approval for occupancy upon inspection.

Despite, substantial progress, on Friday, July 12 (one week following the last significant earthquake), the college was visited by CalOES, FEMA, and DSA, which resulted in the majority of the campus buildings being yellow tagged by DSA. Cerro Coso diligently worked to address their concerns, and after review with an architect who works with DSA on July 18, it was determined the college could open areas that are clear while keeping areas that are in need of repair closed.

Cerro Coso President Jill Board issued a very detailed update to all personnel on July 18 to assist in the understanding of the complexities of getting the college back up and running. “I thank our college and district office staff that has been so supportive during this time,” said Board. “I also thank the Board of Trustees who gave Cerro Coso $2.3M out of the district reserve to specifically pay for building restoration. We anticipate that some of this money will be reimbursed by the state and by FEMA but that process takes a very long time,” she said.

Cerro Coso Community College is on summer hours and is closed on Fridays, with the exception of the Child Development Center. The college was closed effective noon on Friday, July 5 and remained closed through July 22. Instructors were in contact with their students to determine appropriate methods for making up class time. The Child Development Center and courses on the athletic fields on the west side of the campus resumed normal operations on Monday, July 15.

“The college appreciates everyone's patience and understanding,” stated President Jill Board. “It was a massive undertaking, and we look forwarded to continuing to provide financial, academic, and emotional support to make sure the Cerro Coso family and community receive the highest quality educational and workplace experience. Their safety will always be our first priority”.

The Learning Resource Center (LRC) will remain CLOSED until further notice. Many of the services provided by the LRC have been moved to the Main Building in the interim.

Kern Community College District (KCCD) Chancellor Thomas Burke and Trustee Jack Connell met with the staff on Tuesday, July 23, to extend a heart-felt welcome back and share their appreciation for the college administration and staff's hard work in getting the college operational. “I am proud of how quickly the college became fully operational, and grateful to the immediate response of the administration and staff of the college emergency response team,” said Chancellor Burke. “Their support was essential to Cerro Coso's recovery.”

“This challenging time has once again revealed Ridgecrest's extraordinary resilience and strength—our college has been a leader in exemplifying this proud community characteristic,” concluded Board. “My sincere thanks to all of you who have rallied around those needing help the most.”