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The outside of the $67 million Palomar College Library is shown on Feb. 16, 2019. (Megan Wood/inewsource)
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Palomar College spending $1 million to remodel new library for presidential suite

As officials prepare for the Friday grand opening of a $67 million library at Palomar College, crews have already begun demolishing part of the building’s top floor to build President Joi Lin Blake an office suite.

Design of the nearly $1 million remodel started more than a year ago when architectural plans were ordered. The college’s governing board later approved a $797,000 contract to build the presidential project.

The suite will include Blake’s office, space for two staffers, and a conference room, restroom, work/break room and waiting area. The money to pay for it is coming from a $694 million bond measure voters approved in 2006.

A few professors have objected for months to spending taxpayer funds on the project when Blake has been talking about budget problems at the district, which serves about 30,000 full- and part-time students. Two college district board members also opposed approving the suite’s construction contract in December, saying they weren’t given enough details about the project.

The inside of President Joi Lin Blake’s future office suite is shown above a staircase in Palomar College’s library on Feb. 5, 2019. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

“It just seemed that it was a sudden vote, that things had already been put in place before we had a chance to get more information,” board member Nina Deerfield told inewsource.

“Could we have a built new classrooms? Equipped science labs? What did we give up for that (presidential office suite)?” she said.

David Kline, a vice president with the nonprofit California Taxpayers Association, questioned spending tax dollars from a bond measure on a remodel that was never in the plan voters approved.

“When you start changing things after the fact or adding offices for the executives instead of more classrooms for the students, that creates a problem,” Kline said. “It is a classic bait-and-switch kind of approach.”

Blake and her spokeswoman, Laura Gropen, declined repeated requests by inewsource for an interview about the library and office suite construction. In an email Tuesday, Blake said the project’s expense was “well within reasonable construction costs.”

Palomar College math professor Shannon Lienhart is shown outside of her office on Feb. 4, 2019. In the background is the college’s $67 million library. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Gropen took inewsource on a tour of the library and described the cost of Blake’s top-floor office as “minimal” compared to the cost of the whole project. It also was the only suitable place on campus left to accommodate the president, she said.

A district official said in an email two other campus buildings were considered for Blake’s office but were ruled out because they were occupied and didn’t have extra square footage.

Above is the original design, which included a meeting room and reading/study room.

Above is the floor plan for Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake’s new office suite.

Changing the library design

When state architecture officials approved plans for the new library in December 2014, the project’s estimated cost was $49 million. Gropen said the total amount now spent on the building is $67.3 million — including the presidential suite.

Drawings show the area for Blake’s 2,232-square-foot office suite was originally designed to be a reading study room and a meeting room.

Blake’s office is temporarily on the new library’s second floor until the suite is finished this summer. Her office previously was in the old library, which is now vacant.  

The outside of Palomar College’s old library is shown on Feb. 16, 2019. The building is now vacant. (Megan Wood/inewsource)