One of the core principles of the University of California is to serve and add economic value to the communities in which its campuses reside.
While the UC system is known primarily for its educational and research prowess, it also expects each of its 10 campuses to invest significant time, talent and resources into service. Over time, this commitment builds important local and regional relationships, strengthens host communities and provides new avenues for growth, diversification and collaboration.
This week, UC Merced will take a major step forward on this vital part of our mission in the San Joaquin Valley when we break ground on our new Downtown Campus Center. The three-story, 67,400-square-foot facility on the corner of 18th and N streets will be noteworthy in several especially meaningful ways.
From a practical standpoint, the new building will allow us to consolidate in one place a host of business functions and administrative services scattered across various leased facilities in and around the city. The floor plan will comprise mixed-use collaboration space as well as conference and seminar rooms and some private shared offices. This will not only improve efficiency and reduce costs for the university, but also bring 370 people to the downtown area each day when the center reaches full occupancy. They could provide a major boost to commercial establishments in the vicinity.
The new facility will integrate well with the surrounding community. The entrance has been designed to complement Merced City Hall, across the street. The building will make use of ample natural light and set high standards for energy efficiency and environmental friendliness, serving as a showcase for some of today’s best ideas in sustainable design and operation. Our goal with this building, as with every building on our main campus, is to achieve high-level certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
But it’s the broader purpose of the new facility that gives it special significance. We have located our center in the downtown area to forge stronger ties with the community and establish a visible presence that reflects our commitment to the city and the region. The building’s design will encourage collaboration with and among community partners, businesses and local entrepreneurs. A first-floor reception area and communal seating areas are intended to stimulate the exchange of ideas and encourage the informal interactions that often lead to innovation and discovery.
When completed in fall 2017, the $45 million building will complement other components of our “downtown campus” that we’ve established on a smaller scale in recent years. This includes the Venture Lab in the Parcade Building, a business incubator operated by our Office of Research and Economic Development, and the UC Merced Alliance for Child and Family Health and Development, a resource center for parents, caregivers and community members at 1018 W. 18th St.
To minimize disruptions during the year-long construction, we have worked closely with the city to identify appropriate construction lay-down space and parking for workers. We have also sought and received permission to close a portion of N Street during construction, mostly to ensure safety for traffic and pedestrian travel on that street. Longer term, we are working with the city to secure sufficient parking to meet the needs of our downtown staff and to minimize parking impacts on nearby merchants.
We are very enthusiastic about the opportunity the new center will afford us to become a more integral part of the community and add to the vitality of the downtown area. By consolidating most of our administrative operations off campus, we can focus on-campus operations on the rapidly growing research and educational mission of the university and related student activities. This, too, will expand significantly when we begin development later this year on the 2020 Project, which will double on-campus physical capacity over the next four years and allow us to grow to 10,000 students.
These are very exciting times for UC Merced and the community we call home. We sincerely hope you can join us in celebrating the occasion as we break ground for the new Downtown Campus Center from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Dorothy Leland is chancellor of UC Merced. She wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.