NorCal College Campus to Double Size with $1.3B Project

The UC Board of Regents has approved a massive expansion plan for the University of California, Merced's San Joaquin Valley campus.

by Gail Kalinoski

Rendering of the university's expanded campus, Merced, Calif.
Rendering of the university’s expanded campus, Merced, Calif.

Merced, Calif.—Just over 10 years old, the University of California, Merced, is the youngest and smallest of the UC campuses. By 2020, it will double in size, now that the UC Board of Regents has approved a major expansion and construction program for the campus in the San Joaquin Valley.

A formal agreement is expected to be signed by mid-August and groundbreaking is scheduled for October. The $1.3 billion project will add approximately 1.2 million gross square feet of buildings and facilities adjacent to the existing campus, with the first buildings set for completion by 2018. The Los Angeles Times reported the project will add 1,700 new residential beds along with state-of the-art research facilities, a dining hall, recreation areas and a competition pool.

Enrollment, currently at about 6,700, is projected to climb to 10,000 once the expansion is finished.

“Final approval of the project is especially significant at a time when we are expanding opportunity by increasing enrollment of Californians by thousands throughout our nine undergraduate campuses, and aiming to maintain that growth beyond 2020,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in a prepared statement.

The regents unanimously approved the design proposed by the developer group, Plenary Properties Merced; proposed external financing; and amendments to the budget and scope of the project, according to the university.

The project is being structured as a type of public-private partnership with PPM responsible for design, construction, operation, maintenance and partial financing of all the new facilities over a 39-year contract. When that contract ends, UC Merced–which will own the buildings and land the entire time–will take over maintenance, according to a report in The Modesto Bee.

The University of California will provide about $600 million in financing through revenue bonds. PPM, a consortium of partners, will raise about $590 million and UC Merced will contribute $157 million, according to various sources. The method used to develop and pay for the expansion is described as “unusual” and has never been used for such a large-scale project. But the Los Angeles Times wrote that the financial commitment from the development partners convinced the UC regents to go with the single team for the project.

Webcor Construction is the general contractor for the project and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is the lead campus planner, according to Building, Design + Construction. Johnson Controls will be the lead operations and management firm, BDC added.

“This is a historic step forward for UC Merced, the UC system and the growing numbers of talented students throughout California who want and deserve a UC education,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said in prepared remarks. “By significantly expanding the newest UC campus, we are redoubling our commitment to the San Joaquin Valley, the fastest-growing but most underserved region of the state, while providing critically needed access to many more qualified students throughout California.”