Proposed Merced College ag project gets some good news in California’s budget

A rendering of the planned new Agriculture and Industrial Technology facilities at Merced College.
A rendering of the planned new Agriculture and Industrial Technology facilities at Merced College.

Included in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $144 billion budget is the proposed funding needed to go forward with Merced College’s new Agriculture and Industrial Technology building, school officials said recently.

An item pertaining to California community colleges would increase facilities bond funding by $358.7 million for 12 new and 15 continuing projects, the college said in a news release. Newsom toured the college in October when he heard from advocates of the bond funding.

School leaders have said the college is preparing to build a facility with bond measures from the last decade. Leaders at the college are seeking to get the matching funds in the budget cycle to build the agriculture structure.

Built in 1968 and 1976, the college’s Agriculture and Industrial Technology facilities are aging. Leaders have said they want to build a new $21 million facility.

“Merced is an agricultural community and I am thrilled the governor’s proposed budget includes the funding necessary to finally build a state-of-the-art Agriculture and Industrial Technology Building at Merced College,” college President Chris Vitelli said in a statement.

The older facilities can’t meet the demand for the number of students training to enter the agricultural industry with demand for careers in industrial technology growing steadily, according to officials.

“Making good on our promise to this community, we are going to build one of the best agriculture and industrial technology buildings possible to reflect the quality of our flagship programs,” Vitelli said in a statement. “This new facility will help our students learn cutting-edge industry skills and earn high-demand, high-wage jobs.”

More classroom and lab space

The proposed building would consist of 20,000 square feet of classroom and laboratory space for programs in industrial technology, horticulture, crop science, animal science and other disciplines. Additional classroom space is important, because the chancellor’s office predicts a 12 percent increase in enrollment from 2016 to 2022.

Assuming the funding sticks, the college could break ground in fall 2020, officials said.

The 2019-20 budget proposal includes a 4 percent increase over the spending plan former Gov. Jerry Brown signed in June. The total proposal — including money earmarked for special purpose funds — tops $209 billion. That’s about $8 billion more than Brown’s final budget.

The governor’s plan also attempts to address the housing crisis in the state. Merced has felt that pinch as it continues to see a 1 percent vacancy rate after years of little construction.

His housing plan contains one-time funding for cities and counties, including $250 million to help communities plan for more housing. An additional $500 million will go to communities that reach their housing production goals and can be used for general purposes.

“This is a crisis,” Newsom said last week. “We’re simply not developing enough housing units.”

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.