UC Merced

UC Merced has big plans for expansion

University of California, Merced 2020 project

University of California, Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Charles Nies, talk about the planned campus expansion in Merced, Calif., Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
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University of California, Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Charles Nies, talk about the planned campus expansion in Merced, Calif., Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

The unusual method being used to double the size of UC Merced by 2020 has the potential to not only transform the campus but have lasting effects on the greater Merced community, officials said Wednesday.

The method is unusual because the university deals with a single entity through a public-private partnership, which officials say has never been used on such a large project. University leaders announced Wednesday the $1.1 billion contract had been awarded to a consortium led by the Plenary Group, an international developer and investor.

In an interview with the Sun-Star, Chancellor Dorothy Leland said the unusual partnership is the best option for quickly springing up new, flexible space for classrooms, laboratories, bedrooms and other areas. It also locks the consortium into maintaining the campus for 39 years.

“We will have buildings that are in top-notch condition and will not be saddled, like many other public entities across the nation, with significant deferred maintenance,” she said.

The 2020 Project will increase the 1.4 million square feet of the campus to 2.6 million, making room for 10,000 students. The construction could break ground as soon as September with the first set of buildings done in 2018.

“Getting to 10,000 (students) or a bit more depends on the buildings getting up,” Leland said. “We’ll be able to have a growth spurt at 2018, and then 2020 we’ll have another one.”

The campus of 6,700 students struggles with the amount of space available, she said, and, though doubling in size, would likely be at capacity as soon as the new buildings go up. With a total of 22,632 students applying for the 2,100 undergraduate seats open in the fall 2016 semester, the campus is in demand.

Financing for the project will include up to $600 million in regents-issued revenue bonds, officials said, pending approval in July, with the rest coming from the developer and UC Merced’s own funds.

Leland said the UC Board of Regents will be asked in July to review and approve the project’s conceptual design and financing, which would clear the way for a formal contract in August.

The project is expected to create more than 10,000 construction jobs in the San Joaquin Valley (more than 12,000 statewide) during the four-year construction period, officials said. The one-time economic benefit to the region will be an estimated $1.9 billion ($2.4 billion statewide).

$1.1 billionThe cost of 2020 Project at UC Merced

The university hired an independent firm to come up with that economic impact estimate, officials said, based on the salaries paid out to workers and the materials purchased locally. Officials noted it does not account for the amount of rent, spending and other dollars generated by the students who call Merced home for at least part of the year.

The latest addition to the campus will be toward the southern end of the standing site, making the school’s Little Lake the center of campus.

Officials said they want to hold onto UC Merced’s quaint, close-knit campus feel.

Charles Nies, the university’s vice chancellor of student affairs, noted the plans call for buildings with classrooms and laboratories on the bottom floor and living space upstairs, not unlike an urban landscape. Shared areas and retail spaces are also in the designs.

“We wanted them not only to think about the buildings but the space in between the buildings and how those spaces in between facilitate that sense of community,” he said. “I think this developer really paid attention to how they create those spaces.”

It’s going to make the campus feel much more complete. It’s really quite wonderful.

Chancellor Dorothy Leland on 2020 Project

Nies said administrators and faculty pride themselves on a personal touch.

The unprecedented methods are being watched by UC President Janet Napolitano, who said the youngest campus in the system could become a model for other campuses looking for the most efficient ways to expand. “As the first public research university to be created in the 21st century, UC Merced is prepared to build on its remarkable academic achievements as the campus itself is built out to accommodate future growth,” she said in a news release.

The plans call for the new buildings to mimic the university’s library, which gives off a glow from its top floor after dark, to tie them into the same architectural style.

“It’s going to make the campus feel much more complete,” Leland said. “It’s really quite wonderful.”

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

UC Merced has selected Plenary Properties Merced to develop the 2020 Project, an ambitious plan to nearly double the physical capacity of the campus within the next four years. Subject to approval from the UC Board of Regents, here’s a glimpse of