New dorm building ready to house students at UC Merced

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comAugust 25, 2013 

— Construction workers scurried in and out of UC Merced's new five-story housing building Tuesday, putting on the final touches before a flood of freshmen students move in Sunday.

The new complex, called the Half Dome, is part of the fourth housing phase for the 8-year-old campus, said Leslie Santos, director of housing and residence life. The building will house 500 students in single, double and triple rooms, she said.

Inspired by Central Valley architecture, the building's interior features muted tones of yellow, green and beige — along with wide-open windows overlooking the university and Lake Yosemite.

Construction took about two years and cost $42 million. The total budget for the project was $54 million, said campus architect Tom Lollini. The building has a 30-year mortgage and will be funded by revenue from students' room and board fees, Lollini said.

UC Merced enrolled 5,760 students as of fall 2012; that number is expected to climb to 6,000 students by this fall.

As the university continues to grow, Lollini said student housing is a critical part of its mission.

"Academic performance and retention rates are higher for students who live on campus," he said. "It creates much better access to faculty and study groups, builds a stronger community and creates socialization."

University officials stressed the Half Dome's sustainability outcomes and use of green technology, saying it will use 50 percent less energy and was constructed using recycled content.

Officials said every campus building has attained — or soon will — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Constructing more on-campus housing is a key component of the university's goal to enroll 10,000 students by 2020. Chancellor Dorothy Leland said UC Merced's growth will stall by 2016 without adding more facilities.

The expansion plans, dubbed the "2020 Project," include reducing the campus footprint from 355 acres to 219 acres to reduce costs, developing multi-use buildings and consolidating support staff to one location.

Lollini said the Half Dome reflects the project's goals by bringing a higher-density building to the heart of the campus and using part of the bottom floor for meeting rooms and offices.

Jessica Kuo, 21, a senior at UC Merced, will work in one of those offices as an IT student supervisor. The Bay Area native moved her supplies into the building Tuesday afternoon.

"My concern was if it (the building) was going to open on time, but it looks a lot better than it did two months ago during the summer," Kuo said. "It's nice because it means our school is expanding and growing."

Kuo, a management major, said living on UC Merced's campus during her first year helped her adjust to college life. "I had friends who didn't live on campus during their freshman year and it was harder to meet people," she said.

Santos, director of housing and residence life, said the university plans to add 1,500 more beds and another dining facility in the next few years as part of its expansion proposal.

"Our demand was so high this year that all the double rooms were tripled," Santos said. "There are always more students that want housing. We can't build fast enough."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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