UC Merced looking for ways to grow

Campus to consult firm about future development

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comAugust 2, 2012 

MARCI STENBEREG/mstenberg@mercedsunstar.com Construction workers maneuver the second 60,000 pound pre cast column for the Science and Engineering 2 building, as it is being lifted by a 350 ton crane Thursday, 08-02-2012-afternoon, on the UC Merced campus south side of the Science and Enegineering building one. The construction of the building began early in 2012.

MERCED SUN-STAR

UC Merced leaders will meet with consultants this fall to try to determine the most cost-effective way to meet its need for more facilities.

UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland on Thursday said consultants from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute will visit the campus and the community in September.

Representatives from the Urban Land Institute didn't return phone calls seeking comment. The university worked with the institute in 2002 on the initial development of the campus.

The university will pay about $125,000 for it to help explore cost-effective alternatives for the next phase of the campus's capital development. Any new development would be in addition to current construction on campus, said Patti Waid, spokeswoman for UC Merced.

Besides projects already under construction, Leland said, the university is ready to start a couple of new ones: the Science and Engineering Building 2 and the Student Services Building.

"But the question we need to look at now is, when we have exhausted the current footprint of our campus infrastructure when our current phase is completed, what is going to be the most cost-effective way to meet our growing facility needs?" Leland said.

Moving beyond the "golf course footprint" requires significant costs, and given California's budget woes, she said, it's not clear whether UC Merced would receive the necessary funding from the state "in the near future."

The golf course footprint consists of 104 acres, Waid said. The university's long-range development plan calls for 810 acres.

To expand beyond the 104 acres would cost about $100 million just for the roads, utilities and other infrastructure, Waid said. That amount doesn't include the cost of construction of new buildings.

Consultants will evaluate various development alternatives on- and off-campus that include financing and investment, costs related to environmental issues and transportation, among other factors.

They will later make recommendations to university leaders on the feasibility of pursuing development on campus or looking at off-campus sites where there's already infrastructure in place, Leland said.

The off-campus sites would include places where the university already has employees working, such as at Castle Airport, the Mondo building in downtown Merced, the Promenade area in North Merced and its office space in Fresno.

More than 300 UC Merced employees already work off-campus at those four sites, Waid said.

Leland said consultants will have the freedom to come up with alternative ideas for locations and financing.

They will study maps and take tours of the area, Leland said. They will also interview city and county officials, people on campus, as well as some people who have property near UC Merced to find out how they feel additional development could impact them.

Consultants will also get reaction from area business leaders, she said.

After recommendations are submitted to university officials, they will evaluate them and make a decision, Leland said.

"We would have to start as soon as possible, but if the best option seems to be purchase, construct or renovate off campus, where there's already infrastructure, we would have to receive Board of Regents approval, before we could act," she said.

The university's long-range development plan would need to be amended to include construction off-campus and would require approval from the board, Waid said.

UC Merced is already behind in facility space to support students, faculty, staff and research, Leland said.

The campus will be able to accommodate about 5,600 students this fall, but it will be crowded, she said. "We are being creative and looking at ways to solve our space challenges in the short term," she said.

University officials are talking with the Merced Union High School District about the possibility of holding some of its classes at the new El Capitan High School when it opens.

UC Merced's goal is to have 10,000 students enrolled by 2020, Leland said. By 2014, it will reach 75 percent of that student enrollment goal.

"But we (would) only have 50 percent of the facility capacity to support that growth," she said. "It's a challenge."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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