Money for UC Merced building nears approval

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comNovember 14, 2012 

— The UC Board of Regents finance committee on Wednesday approved roughly $45 million to help build new classrooms and labs for the University of California at Merced's ever-expanding student population.

The money, part of the committee's 2013-14 budget for systemwide capital improvements, were approved during the UC Regents' regularly scheduled meeting at UC San Francisco's Mission Bay campus.

The plan calls for a $788.5 million that would allow 39 major capital projects throughout the UC system to move forward, if approved by the state Legislature. The plan is expected to be approved by the entire board today.

Among those projects is UC Merced's proposed $49 million classroom and academic office building. It would increase on-campus classroom space by 50 percent.

Construction for the approximately 77,000-square-foot, four-story building could begin shortly after funding is authorized and it's expected to be completed in 2015, according to Patti Waid, UC Merced spokeswoman.

The site for the project is west of the existing classroom and office building.

"Our Merced campus is booming," Nathan Brostrom, UC executive vice president for business operations, told the regents. "We need to figure out a way to build the classroom buildings."

Gov. Jerry Brown, who was present during Wednesday's meeting, said state revenues are looking better, but the state has a lot of debt.

According to California's fiscal outlook released Wednesday by the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, the state's budget situation has improved sharply. Its projected budget deficit for 2013-14 is $1.9 billion, according to the forecast.

"It's always a bit of a wish list, there's nothing new about this," Brown said of the budget proposals approved Wednesday.

The projects on the plan are a priority list for the UC system, said Peter King, public affairs director for the UC system. "It's high in the priority list," he said of the UC Merced building.

The campus is quickly running out of space for growth with its increasing demand for enrollment, Waid said. "The rate of growth the campus can accommodate is contingent on the ability to provide classrooms and labs to accommodate that growth," she said.

Waid said the new building would provide critically needed additional capacity for instruction and research, including classrooms, instructional support, tutorial rooms, research labs, faculty offices and other academic office space.

UC Merced officials had to slow down enrollment this fall because of space limitations.

J. Michael Thompson, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at UC Merced, said many people at the university, including Chancellor Dorothy Leland, have been working hard to get the resources needed for the university to continue to grow.

Other UC campuses don't have the physical space to build more buildings for college-going youth, Thompson said. On the other hand, UC Merced has that capability.

"It's logical that much of that growth would be centered in Merced," he said. "That's just in my perspective."

The campus' goal for enrollment is to reach 10,000 students within the next eight to 10 years, Waid said. Total student enrollment is currently 5,760.

Ongoing construction projects at UC Merced include the Science and Engineering Building 2, expected to be completed in 2014; the Student Services Building, expected to be completed in 2013, and the fourth phase of on-campus housing, expected to be completed in 2013, Waid said.

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

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