Special to the Village News
"If you build it, they will come" could be the theme for the Fallbrook Education Center. Built in 2018, the campus features 18 "high-end" modular buildings, including classrooms, a computer lab, library, biology and chemistry labs, and offices that will all remain when the next building phase is completed.
Construction is expected to begin next summer on a $54 million building expansion with completion potential for the fall 2024 school year.
The first classes at the Fallbrook Education Center took place in fall 2018. The center attracted just over 1,000 students. In fall 2019, enrollment increased to nearly 1,200 students, but the pandemic hit as the center was gaining momentum. Current enrollment has dropped under 1,000 but the headcount is expected to rise as the campus is expanded. Hence the "if you build it ..." projection.
"The Fallbrook Education Center is a permanent facility built to serve the educational needs of the northern part of our district, said Dr. Star Rivera-Lacey, superintendent/president of Palomar College. "The addition of the 40,000 square foot facility will significantly enhance the educational opportunities for students and families in the area and contribute to the needs of the regional workforce for years to come."
The campus is located near the northeast corner of I-15 and Hwy. 76, an area that is expected to grow significantly in this decade. New homes continue to be built off Horse Ranch Creek Road, developed by the college, and the quadrants of the freeway interchange are expected to be home to a Sheriff's Department station and shopping center.
Plans for the campus expansion were delayed by the pandemic, a spokesman said. The $54 million project is one of the final items funded by Prop M, approved by voters in 2006 for capital improvements to the main campus in San Marcos and the satellite centers.
The expansion, dubbed "Fallbrook 40" for its 40,000 square feet, will include a water well and solar panels, making it a "Net Zero" project. The well alone will amount to a $200,000 annual savings, a spokesman said.
The expansion is on land mostly on the north and east portions of the existing modulars. Property to the south is designated for future expansion.
In addition to students from Fallbrook, Bonsall and Rainbow, the center attracts students from Temecula and the southern Riverside County area, as well as military-affiliated students living in the area and those from Camp Pendleton.
"The Fallbrook Education Center was gaining momentum as the pandemic hit," Rivera-Lacey said. "We have been in an active mode of recovery, which includes the development of partnerships in the northern portion of our district."
"One example is our partnership with Bonsall High School," she added. "At the start of this fall semester we launched an Early College Program with Bonsall High School. Forty-five students in the program are taking traditional high school classes at Bonsall High, while also taking college courses at the Fallbrook Education Center. The program is designed to provide college opportunities for traditionally underrepresented college populations."
Ryan Williams, director of the Fallbrook Education Center, said that as the program grows it could be possible for a high school student to receive both a high school diploma and community college diploma at the same time.
As a community college, Palomar offers an AA degree, with its college prep classes being transferable to four-year colleges. Williams said students could achieve an AA degree through classes at the Fallbrook campus and online without visiting the main campus in San Marcos. He said the most popular majors at the Fallbrook center are business, sociology and nursing.
Williams said he is also in contact with the administration at Fallbrook High School about a program for their students taking classes at the Palomar campus in Fallbrook.
The college – including the main campus and centers in Rancho Bernardo, Escondido, Camp Pendleton and Fallbrook – are in the midst of completing a 2035 Educational and Facilities Vision planning process to evaluate the needs of the entire district, inclusive of current and future program offerings and all facilities.
Seventy public meetings have been scheduled in North County, most completed. That includes three at the Fallbrook campus, the latest on Oct. 18. A separate meeting was held for students at the center.
Among the topics discussed, Williams said, was future course emphasis for the Fallbrook campus. It's possible something like agriculture could be added given the local job market, the director said during a visit to the campus. With the area's interest in art, that's another track to consider, he added. There are currently no art classes at the Fallbrook center.
"The (vision) participants include students, employees, advisory councils, and internal committees and councils," Rivera-Lacey said. "All of the sessions are centered around what Palomar College should look like as we serve students and the needs of the regional economy in the 12 years leading up to 2035. These qualitative sessions along with a quantitative study will inform the design of the plan."
The completed plan will be widely presented within the district and made available to the public via the college website, https://www.palomar.edu/.