UC Merced building plan likely an economic boon

MERCED — A grand transformation is under way.

The University of California Board of Regents accepted UC Merced's 10-year, $1.13 billion capital improvement plan March 25 — a plan that undoubtedly will change the landscape of Merced forever.

The school's plan will serve as a guide to accommodate 11,000 students by 2020, according to the university.

The regents also approved UC Merced to oversee and manage construction projects that are less than $60 million, UC Merced officials said in a news release.

Several construction projects comprise the plan.

Overall, the school has a projected need of $519 million for instruction and research buildings; $144 million for infrastructure improvements; and $131 million for student housing, according to school officials. The state will contribute a majority of the money.

UC Merced is building three campus residence halls — Tenaya Hall, Cathedral Hall and part of the Summits housing facilities, where some of next fall's freshmen will live, UC officials said.

By fall, the Social Science and Management Building, near the campus's eastern border, will be ready, UC officials said.

The buildings will satisfy the school's immediate need for more classroom space, but more space is still needed, said Mary Miller, UC Merced vice chancellor for administration.

Construction projects moving ahead

Next school year, UC Merced anticipates breaking ground on the $15 million renovation of Castle Commerce Center, a site for future research projects, and the $85 million Science and Engineering Building 2, UC officials said.

In the next 10 years, the school plans to build three academic buildings, a recreation field, more student housing and a student union building, school officials said. Non- academic structures are funded through student fees, gifts and external financing.

With all the new construction projects, hope abounds that construction jobs will trickle down to Merced County residents. It's a silver lining for a county struggling with a 22 percent unemployment rate.

University construction has provided thousands of jobs, stimulated new business development and pumped millions of dollars into the local economy, said Patti Istas, spokeswoman for UC Merced.

Local construction and engineering firms have been selected for some projects.

Merced engineering company Fremming, Parson and Pecchenino is helping with the construction of the Housing 3 project, and Artisan Construction and Design Merced is working on the Social Sciences and Management building, Istas said.

As more new buildings are finished, more students will arrive.

This year, UC Merced has more than 3,400 students. Next fall that number will jump with the admission of 1,400 new undergraduate students and 50 new graduate students, Istas said.

The university anticipates enrolling 650 new students through 2013-2014 year, school officials added.

Within 30 years, the school plans to serve 25,000 students.

Their capabilities and the school's growth lead some in private industry to predict a strong rebound for the county.

New labs could transform the area's largely industrial economy to one focused on the life sciences, biotechnology and clean fuels, said Frank Quintero, Merced's economic development manager.

"It will improve the skills of our labor force as well as recruit talent," he said.