SAN MARCOS — Palomar College’s urban forestry program faces an uncertain fate as the large timber-frame structure that houses the group’s sawmill and kiln will likely have to come down, college officials said.
Supporters of the urban forestry program, which falls under the college’s Cabinet and Furniture Technology department, are dismayed at the recent turn of events and are hoping to find a way to keep the structure, which has been on the campus since 2000.
They are urging people to contact the Palomar College Governing Board to lobby them into action.
“If people will let the governing board know that they support having these structures here, then that can make a big difference,” said Kathy Steffen, a part-time teaching assistant who is spearheading the push to keep the structure.
The urban forestry program is a popular arm of the college’s woodworking department. People, businesses and others can bring felled trees to the mill, as opposed to the landfill, and students then saw and shape the trees into usable lumber.
The lumber is either then sold to students at the college for woodworking and cabinetry courses, or donated to high school woodworking programs.
College officials said they recently learned from the Division of the State Architect, which reviews construction projects at public buildings — including schools — that the frame was not structurally sound and did not meet state architectural guidelines.
The college discovered this as they were applying to build additional storage facilities in that area for the college’s trade and industry department, which also needed the State Architect’s approval.
It was discovered that the structure, which was actually moved 100 feet from its current location in 2014 with funds from the college’s Proposition M bond campaign, had never received approval from the State Architect.
College officials said the DSA’s determination means that it would either have to bring the structure up to code — which would take money it doesn’t currently have — or destroy it. If the latter were to occur, there isn’t enough money to build another storage facility for the large mill or other objects housed in the structure.
“This came up because we were building other buildings in that area, and if that building falls, it could not only damage the buildings around it, it could also hurt students or teachers,” said Dan Sourbeer, the college’s interim vice president of instruction. “Members of the department are upset and concerned, and we understand that, but if the DSA says that the building is structurally unsound or doesn’t meet codes, we can’t have students in there.”
Steffen said that she believes the timber structure is sound, and that the main reason for the State Architect’s decision is because of a lack of familiarity with timber frame structures, which have been used for thousands of years, she said.
“You see them back East and you see them in Canada, barns that have been standing for a couple hundred years,” Stefen said. “If you keep a good roof on them, they are going to last for an amazing amount of time.”
Steffen said she is holding out hope for a loophole or a variance that will allow the college to maintain the structure on campus.
Sourbeer said that the college needs to have a robust discussion about the options available before it decides the structure’s fate.
“We need to have a discussion about what the alternatives would be,” Sourbeer said. “We are hoping the mill wouldn’t have to go away permanently, maybe it has to go away during the construction, but there also might be alternatives.”