A People's History of Spokane Community College

The 1990s


  • Dances with Wolves claimed the 1990 Best Picture Oscar and earned Kevin Costner a Best Director award.
  • Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go shared the New York Times Bestseller list with works like The Stand (Stephen King) and The Bourne Ultimatum (Robert Ludlum).
  • On Thursday nights, we all congregated at America's favorite TV bar - and Emmy Award-winner for Comedy - "Cheers." The Emmy for Drama went to "LA Law." Ah, Thursday nights on NBC. Must-see TV.
  • And Wilson Philips' "Hold On" topped the Billboard 100.

Jack Selle, SCC's dean of students, was appointed interim president in November 1989, serving through July 1990 when CEO Terry Brown announced the hiring of Joe Rich as SCC's eighth president.

Joe Rich
SCC President
Joe Rich

In his announcement, Brown noted, "Dr. Rich is a person of integrity and a team player. He is committed to community college education and the affirmative action efforts within CCS. He has also maintained a high level of trust among faculty at Walla Walla Community College [where he previously was dean of instruction], which is critically important to SCC at this time."

In the immortal words of Wilson Philips: "Hold on, hold on, baby, hold on."

By 1990, enrollment at the community colleges and IEL - 21,454 and counting - was the highest in 10 years, making CCS the largest community college district in the state. It was, according to an On the Inside report, "as large as Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga and Whitworth combined." The Spokane district's 15 minutes of fame was fleeting, however. The Seattle community college district would "dethrone" CCS by spring quarter.

By February 1990, SCC was a lead institution for a new CCS initiative - "articulation agreements" - agreements that linked local area high school curriculum to that of CCS allowing high school students to earn college credits at the same time they completed high school requirements. Culinary arts, welding, office occupations, and auto mechanics were the first articulation programs to be put into place. "This is just the beginning," said Gary Mitchell, SCC director of campus resources.

Culinary arts - 1990s

Running Start would follow, starting Fall Quarter 1992. As of September 2 of that year, 191 high school students, representing 26 area schools, were enrolled in Running Start - 60 at SCC, 106 at SFCC, and 25 at Colville Center.

Welding - 1990s

Workforce training was emerging as a major emphasis across the district with SCC at the forefront by virtue of its wide array of career-technical programs. By 1990, plans were well underway for a pretraining program for potential employees of Boeing, which expected to open a manufacturing site in Spokane in 1991. And in 1994, the furniture manufacturer, Harpers Inc., opened a 500,000-sqare-foot facility right across the border in Post Falls, Idaho. SCC and CCS partnered with North Idaho College to provide training in sheet metal, upholstery, painting, welding, fluid power, office technology, and general education.

And in April 1992, SCC learned it would be the only community college in the nation - and one of just six colleges and universities in the Northwest - to evaluate Microsoft's newest software package - Windows 3.1. The package included Windows 3.1, Publisher 1.0, Excel 4.0 and Word for Windows 2.0.

The campus continued to change. The "business technology" addition to the east of Old Main was completed in summer 1992, adding 41,517 square feet of new office and classroom space. A Phase II remodeling project in Old Main was wrapped up in 1994, adding classroom space for architectural technology, civil engineering technology, computer-integrated manufacturing, mechanical engineering technology, art, drama, music, speech, education, math, journalism, and English (not to mention a Liberal Arts Center as well). In 1992, SCC fire science students moved onto campus for the first time in 10 years when the community colleges purchased Fire Station No. 8 at the corner of Mission Avenue and Greene Street. The program was previously housed in a former city fire station at Market and Bridgeport.

Fire science - 1990s

And finally, the doors opened March 1, 1994, to SCC's first auditorium that would showcase theater, entertainment, and lecture events in the Lair-Student Center. SCC drama instructor, Ron Heiss, penned the first play to be performed in the auditorium - a two-act comedy entitled Call Me Superstitious. It opened April 25, 1994.

Race car - 1990s

There were a number of program firsts as well: SCC automotive faculty and students unveiled their new race car in March 1992 - bright "CCS blue" and loaded with extras like "a narrowed nine-inch Ford differential and a 350 turbo hydramatic transmission...355-cubic inch, small-block Chevy engine and multiple safety devices including...on-board fire extinguishing systems."

The race car is still very much around. Next time you need your sinuses cleared or an ear popped, stop by the Automotive Building and ask the crew to rev up her engine.

SCC ag students held their first Holiday Craft Fair November 14-15, 1992.

And best of all (or would that be "bass of all?"), SCC continuing education brought in six of the nation's best professional bass fishermen in the nation for a two-day workshop, "Bass Fishing Techniques," in January 1994. Topics included "what to do when the fish don't bite; lures; tackle; flippin' and pitchin' techniques; vertical tactics for deep or suspended bass; topwater techniques; tube baits; split shotting; crankbait tactics; plastic worm patterns; and using locators."

A good time was had by all.

But storm clouds were gathering on several fronts across the district - and at SCC. As early as 1990, both students and faculty were staging protests over a looming 12.5 percent budget cut due to revenue shortfalls at the state level.

"Informational picketing" started in March, followed by a one-day faculty strike/walk-out April 23, 1991.

Some 50 to 60 percent of the district's full-time faculty participated in the strike. In November, 500 community college students would rally at the SCC clock tower staging their own protest.

Joe Rich's tenure as SCC president had hit a rough patch. Citing poor communication and a management style that did not meet their expectations, faculty and administrators called a special meeting June 3, 1991, "to discuss faculty concerns about 'low confidence' in administrators," said Deb Kyle, SCC AHE vice president.

Rich came under fire again in February 1992, with faculty voting more than 3 to 1 that they lacked confidence in his leadership. In response, trustees created a committee to address faculty and staff complaints, which Rich said was "a positive step in terms of being able to get things out on the table."

Despite laying out a plan to improve morale and trust on campus, Rich's relationship with faculty continued to crumble, resulting in a second vote of no confidence in March 1993. In May, Rich told CCS trustees he would complete his present term through June 1994 and then retire from his contract. Just a few months later, in September 1993, CEO Terry Brown intervened, moving District Vice President Don Kolb, into the position of SCC president through June 1995. Rich was reassigned to district duties until his contract expired.

Don Kolb
SCC President
Don Kolb

Kolb "has a long history with the college and is viewed as a hard-working, dedicated individual who is fair and puts students first. He understands the problems at SCC and is committed to involving faculty and staff in moving ahead," Brown told CCS faculty and staff.

The Perfect Storm was brewing in 1993-94: Poor state budget projections meet Master Contract negotiations. Pre-RIF (reduction in force) notices were sent out to four SCC programs - parts merchandising, vision care, printing, and supermarket checker - along with two others at SFCC. (Ultimately, just supermarket checker training would be cut at SCC in 1993. The SCC presses would roll to a stop in spring 1995.)

And Master Contract negotiations? It's probably safe to say they reached a nadir when faculty walked out on CEO Terry Brown at the district's 1994 Fall Conference. Following a keynote address by State Attorney General Chris Gregoire, AHE President Bob Branch read a letter reiterating faculty concern over the negotiations and then said they would hold their own meeting in the SCC auditorium. Good times, good times.

When the "S" word ("Strike") began to surface, SCC student government weighed in with SCC Associated Student Council President Alfredo Llamedo telling trustees at their September 1994 meeting students were taking a "neutral position" on the negotiations, but with a caveat. "If a strike occurs, we're contemplating filing a suit on behalf of students asking to be reimbursed for the cost of tuition for every day of class we lose to the strike," he said.

The Board of Trustees pushed back. At its Oct. 3, 1994 meeting, members unanimously delegated Terry Brown "'the authority to take whatever actions which in his judgment represent the best interests of the district' in the event of an unlawful action such as a strike." Brown's options included canceling classes, suspending district operations, subcontracting, and negotiating with other education providers among others.

Two weeks later, former SFCC and District President, Max Snyder, was brought in to mediate with CCS and college faculty. The two parties reached a tentative agreement October 31.

The contract was ratified in November. Board Chair Roberta Greene said, "I hope we can sign this agreement and go forth and again remember specifically what we are here for...to educate and to improve lives. Now we pull together, we work together, and we move on."

Whew. And that was just the FIRST half of the 1990s.

Hey, buddy. Can I build ya a garage?

Since the early 1960s, second-year SCC carpentry and architectural design students gained practical work experience on a variety of community projects - everything from Halloween haunted houses to modular homes. The department also began soliciting proposals for a spring quarter garage project and fall quarter house project from among district employees.

In fall 1996, the CCS Foundation took the idea one step further. If Foundation staff helped procure a residential lot and building materials, would SCC students and faculty design and build a "Touch the Future" house whose sales proceeds would be used for student scholarships?

The first TTF house was located at 13617 E. 13th Court in the Spokane Valley. It had three bedrooms, two full baths, a two-car garage, a den off the kitchen, main floor utilities, and sliding glass doors opening out to two outdoor terraces.

SCC electronics instructor John Curran and his new bride, Kathy, snapped up the house when it was finished. Its sale netted the Foundation more than $35,000.

This CCS Foundation-SCC building trades partnership continues to this day and has raised some $700,000 in scholarship and program support.

Jim Williams
SCC President
Jim Williams

Choosing the theme, "Moving in Harmony toward the 21st Century," SCC's eighth President, James H. Williams, arrived on campus in June 1995, resolving to rebuild the college's trust and energy.

In a September 1995 message to faculty and staff, Williams wrote, "At the heart of my vision is sustaining and strengthening of a strong college climate where there is an assumption of quality and a commitment to student success... A climate where conflicts give way to cooperation; viable results emerge from compromise; and where the right means are used to reach the ends for which all parties strive. A climate where the entire campus community works together to ensure that our mission is understood and is accomplished. A climate where we promote the notion of a community of learners."

Almost immediately, Williams emphasized his preference for a "bottom up" approach to management, calling on faculty, staff, administrators, and students to "share in the stewardship role" and become active participants in college governance.

SCC embraced shared governance. By fall 1997, Williams was able to tick off a number of accomplishments toward that end in a progress report to the college, including unanimous ratification of a five-year strategic plan; creation of a Council of Department Chairs and a Staff Council. Administrative Council membership was expanded to include the AHE president, Associated Student Council president, SCC bookstore manager, and building and grounds supervisor.

Cosmetology class - 1990s Water Resources

At the same time, SCC moved forward. During fall quarter 1995, a new fitness center for students, faculty and staff opened, and the campus got its first electronic readerboard. Its website would follow in 1997. SCC was selected to serve as a national test site for auto welding - one of only 35 in the country - and began offering interactive telecourses (business law!) in 1996. A 900-square-foot addition was added to the SCC greenhouse as was an 8,842-square-foot addition to the Walter S. Johnson Sports Center. SCC horticulture students would open their ever-popular retail spot, The Greenery, in 1997. And in 1998, SCC fluid power students would win the grand prize in a prestigious design competition sponsored by the National Fluid Power Association.

The winning creation? "The Bigfoot Press" - a sophisticated air-over-oil compressor to crush pop cans.

SCC celebrated the opening of its Center for International Programs and Student Services in February 1997, heralding an active era of international exchanges and training initiatives. One notable contract involved bringing newly recruited employees of the Saudi Arabia airline company, Saudia Airlines, to Spokane for training in aviation maintenance and avionics.

Did we mention the airline was owned by Saudi Binladen Group? Ouch.

Programs expanded: Water resources added two options - hydrographer and water quality; electronics going with avionics, computers, field service, and electrical maintenance; and fluid power (that would be hydraulic and pneumatic automation to you today) creating specialist and technician tracks (1995-97). Between 1997 and 1999, the college would see the addition of pharmacy assistant, customer service representative, and cosmetology/esthetician programs.

And in 1999, SCC students, along with their counterparts at the IEL, would approve a $3 per credit technology fee to generate new revenue to be used for technology upgrades benefitting students. SCC’s first technology budget was $270,000 - $135,000 to improve student computer workstations and labs and $135,000 to buy equipment for specific programs.


Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. Is that freeway over your head? In October 1998, SCC and the CCS Board of Trustees took on the Washington Department of Transportation after previewing plans that would have Spokane's mythological eight-lane North-South Freeway crossing a portion of the campus.

The department had proposed building an elevated structure paralleling Greene Street on the west side of campus, standing over SCC parking lots and (gasp!) displacing the college's 76-foot clock tower. No-oooooooo, not the clock tower!

"It's probably one of the worst things that could happen to SCC," said Ron Bell, interim district chancellor/CEO. It's like putting [Seattle's] Highway 99 through the college. It wrecks everything around. The ambience on campus will go to hell."

Later in the year, trustees and DOT representatives reached an agreement that would give the community colleges more say in future planning. The freeway would become a key element in SCC's campus master plan, with the main entrance to campus ultimately shifting to Mission Avenue. In November 2002, CCS trustees authorized purchase of 16 acres of land on the eastern edge of campus from Avista Corporation as part of SCC's long-term master plan for campus expansion. Hello, new Technical Education Building.

Life didn't always move in harmony across the district in the late 1990s. At the May 28, 1996, Board of Trustees meeting, Jim Williams and Vern Loland, SFCC president at the time, would ignite a lively debate that continued for months. Some might say it's still rolling.

They proposed changing the "college identities."

In their proposal to the Board of Trustees, Williams and Loland visualized a system where each college would have a distinctive logo, use different assessment tests, apply different associate of arts degree requirements, develop different marketing strategies, and identify athletic teams with the college where they play. They also suggested changing the colleges' names for easier identification.

"We're in an era now where higher education has become extremely competitive both publicly and privately," Williams said. "There is a need, I believe, to position ourselves as a district to be competitive... Another point has to do with clarifying within the district who we are. I think that is very important from a marketing perspective." He added he believed the proposals were "modest and involving low or no cost."

There were strong reactions to the proposal. Dick Cox, AHE president, said, "I think you need autonomy so each school can work independently. However, I have a concern about different logos and signs... I like the look of the [current] logo and publications because I remember what it was like when there were no standards. Some of the stuff that went out was pretty crude and it just didn't have a professional look to it."

SCC faculty rep and speech instructor, Angela Wizner, supported the idea so SCC could market itself as a "comprehensive college" with a full liberal arts program along with professional/technical offerings. But CCS Athletics Director Maury Ray said identifying teams with one college would be "a step backwards," undoing much of their efforts to recruit students to Community Colleges of Spokane.

Trustees revisited the idea at a special retreat Jan. 16, 1997, following fall meetings with faculty, staff, and students on each campus and at the IEL.

At SCC, Williams reported, faculty and administrators believed SCC had an "identity problem" while classified staff and students did not. Most favored the idea of a college-specific logo but wanted to keep the name, Spokane Community College. Loland's findings were similar at SFCC, while Ron LaFayette, IEL executive vice president, reported the IEL relied heavily on the CCS logo and strong district image and favored common assessment and degree requirements.

The upshot? Williams and Loland recommended the district develop a marketing plan "to identify and promote the unique strengths of each college and IEL." A 17-member task force was assembled to develop and analyze a communitywide marketing study.

The study was completed by summer 1997, engaging some 1,900 people, including 267 faculty, 257 staff, 400 CCS grads, 400 current students, 400 residents in the CCS service area, and 200 representatives from business. The results were unveiled at the district's 1997 Fall Conference. Among the highlights:

  • Employers and the general public had "high awareness of SCC and SFCC while CCS District 17 as an entity is nearly invisible." (On the Inside, Sept. 22, 1997)
  • And "most groups indicated by a large margin that establishing separate identities for SCC, SFCC, and the IEL was unimportant."

Nevertheless, the district would move forward in creating a strategic marketing plan for CCS that, among other things, would consciously build on the special strengths of each operating unit.

As the furor over college identities subsided and a marketing plan moved forward, the district would tackle yet more changes: In December 1997, District CEO Terry Brown announced his retirement effective July 1, 1998. Following a failed national search for his replacement (in which Jim Williams had been a finalist), the Board of Trustees appointed Ron Bell, former president of Shoreline Community College, to serve as the district's interim chief executive officer while another search was implemented.

In spring 1999, all eyes shifted to the State Legislature and a $11 million capital project request to expand and renovate SCC's 24-year-old Health Sciences Building, home to 17 allied health programs enrolling almost 900 students annually. The building originally was intended to accommodate seven programs and 284 students.

Governor Gary Locke and Jim Williams

The project, deemed a critical capital need by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, had been dropped from the 1999 priority funding list by the Higher Education Coordinating Board. And it was MIA in Gov. Gary Locke's proposed budget as well.

"This has serious implications for our students. Without updating, several SCC allied health programs could lose their accreditation. That means our students can't take state board exams upon graduation," Williams told the CCS Board of Trustees. "Graduates from our allied programs support more 1,100 physicians in 80 medical specialties, plus approximately 700 employers in the Spokane area."

Floor art in Building 27

Both SCC and SFCC have benefited from the state's Art in Public Places program, which stipulates that 0.5 percent of state construction costs be dedicated to the provision of art. At SCC, the bronze stamps in the Health Sciences Building and floor mosaic in Math/Science come to mind. But those glass "wings" on the wall of Old Main? Well, the mystery is solved.

Double Dream Book art in Building 1

Installed in November 1996 at the cost of $49,000, "Double Dream Book" is a work by Seattle artist Norie Sato. The two 4-foot-wide "dream books" are etched glass and convey more than 100 goals and dreams of SCC students, faculty, and staff. The artist said the work is "based on the image of an open book which is in the process of transforming or flying apart into the various objects, symbols and metaphors contained within the book."

Okay. Now we get it.

A groundswell of community support, including a petition signed by 600 SCC students and endorsements by the Spokane City Council, Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council, The Spokesman-Review, and Journal of Business hit Olympia like a full-blown tsunami. By May, SCC learned the project would be fully funded, ground was broken in December 1999 and the building opened to students in January 2002.

Williams would not be around to see the Health Science Building completed. In April 1999, he resigned as president of SCC to take up the presidency at Arapahoe Community College in Denver, Colorado. The IEL's executive vice president, Ron LaFayette, would be appointed interim president.

And in June 1999, the CCS Board of Trustees announced the hiring of Charles A. Taylor as the district's fifth chancellor/CEO.

Let's party like it's 1999.

The 2000s