West Hills Community College District has a rich history of serving the educational needs of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley for more than 80 years.
The district traces its roots back to 1932, when the Coalinga Extension Center for Fresno State College was founded to offer classes through the local high school district. In the 1940s, Coalinga College ended formal ties with Fresno State and came under the control of the Coalinga Union High School District. In 1956, a new 40 acre campus for the school opened on Cherry Lane in Coalinga. In 1961, the school separated from the high school district and, in 1969, became known as West Hills College.
As time went on, the college expanded its reach into surrounding communities. In 1962, Lemoore and Avenal became a part of the district. The following year, Riverdale and Tranquillity High School Districts followed suit. Outreach increased in Firebaugh with the opening of the North District Center in 1971 and in Lemoore, with a West Hills presence at both Naval Air Station Lemoore and Lemoore High School.
While classes were offered as early as 1964 in Lemoore, a classroom and office were built in 1981 on land purchased from the city and named the Kings County Center. In the early 1990s, the California Postsecondary Commission designated West Hills College as the community college provider to the Hanford and Armona areas.
The approach of the new millennium brought even more changes. Online classes were offered starting in 1999. In 1998, approximately 107 acres of land was donated by the Pedersen-Semas families for the building of a full-fledged campus in Lemoore. The same year a $19.5 million bond measure, Measure G, passed to fund the building of the college and remodeling at both the Coalinga and Firebaugh campuses.
The first new community college built in California in this century opened in 2002 west of Highway 41 on Bush Street. The campus earned college status from the Board of Governors in 2001 and full accreditation in 2005, giving the district two separate colleges, jointly governed by the West Hills Community College District. WHCL became the 109th community college in California; there are now 112, making it the largest system of higher education in the U.S.
That was just the beginning of a new phase of construction running into the 21st Century. In 1998, NDC Firebaugh moved to a new building. Several major bond measures were passed in 2008 and in 2014. Voters passed Measure C in 2008, which benefited West Hills College Coalinga and provided $11.6 million in funds to build new agriculture facilities at the Farm of Future and modernize several campus buildings.
Measure E was passed in Lemoore at the same time, providing $31 million in funding for several planned new buildings. The state of the art Golden Eagle Arena opened in 2011 and a new 23,000 square foot student center is scheduled to open in 2016.
Measure Q, an $11.8 million measure, was also passed in 2008 to provide funds for the North District Center, Firebaugh.
Measure T, a $20 million bond issue, was passed in 2014 to fund district-wide ongoing technology upgrades for the next 20 years.
California Proposition 51 was passed in 2016, which has provided remaining funds needed to build a new 41,633 sq. ft. North District Center in Firebaugh. The center has an anticipated completion date of December 2021 and will be comprised of over 41,000 square feet of classroom, lab, library and office space.
A new district office in Coalinga is another building project completed in this new phase.
The district covers nearly 3,500 square miles with colleges in Lemoore and Coalinga, the North District Center in Firebaugh, a District office in Coalinga, eight child development centers throughout neighboring rural communities, and the Farm of the Future facility at the north end of Coalinga.
Planning is underway for further improvements at all three WHCCD sites.
WHCCD has also continued its commitment to innovation. WHCCD has earned three California Innovation Awards for Higher Education. The Innovation Award for Higher Education was created by the State of California Department of Finance as an incentive to urge colleges to focus on innovative reforms, in an effort to increase completion rates and make college more affordable. They recognize California districts and colleges that help reduce the time it takes students to complete degrees and credentials, reduce the total cost of attendance for students, or do both.