member spotlight: uc merced celebrates completion of first phase of ‘2020 project’

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The University of California, Merced — the newest campus in the 10-school University of California system — last week unveiled the first three structures arising from its unprecedented expansion effort, the Merced 2020 Project. The $1.3 billion plan, once completed, will add a total of 13 buildings and 1.2 million gross square feet of teaching, research, residential, and student-support facilities to accommodate up to 10,000 students.

The centerpiece of the project, and the site of last week’s unveiling, is the Pavilion – an iconic 600-seat dining facility overlooking Little Lake. The Pavilion is complemented by two new residence halls that have been strategically designed to form a pedestrian-friendly corridor that blends housing with classrooms, study lounges, and student activities.

“The capacity we are building right now will enable our future,” said UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, a member of the Bay Area Council’s Board of Directors. “We will provide world-class education to more of the best and brightest students from California and beyond. We will grow our faculty thoughtfully and strategically to have the greatest possible impact in our areas of research excellence. We will become a powerhouse of innovation and transformation for the San Joaquin Valley.”

UC Merced is leveraging the power of public private partnerships (P3) to realize its Merced 2020 vision, and the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute has provided ongoing research that has served as foundation for the university’s P3 approach.

The UC Merced campus first opened its doors in 2005 to a class of 875 students. Designed as a gateway to a world-class University of California education in a region that has long been underserved, UC Merced is now the fastest-growing public university in the nation, and boasts a student population of nearly 8,000. The university excels in cognitive science, unmanned aircraft research and biological engineering studies, and its proximity to Yosemite National Park provides opportunities for student leadership development and environmental research. It remains the only campus to host a research station in the park.

“We believe in the power of education to change lives and change the world for the better,” UC President Janet Napolitano said. “There is no better example of that than UC Merced, and this step marks a new chapter in the expansion of that opportunity.”

Developed by Plenary Properties Merced and constructed by Webcor Builders — comprising a world-class team of architects, planners, engineers, and construction professionals — the 2020 Project is the largest public-private partnership of its kind in the U.S. higher education sector. Earlier this month, the project was featured prominently in the Bay Area Council Economic Institute’s report, “Public-Private Partnerships in California.”

“We are well on our way to meeting our delivery and sustainability goals for the UC Merced 2020 Project, and this milestone marks a tremendous occasion for the university and our PPM team,” said Dale Bonner, Executive Chairman of Plenary Concessions. “We are incredibly proud to see this project setting the standard for P3 partnerships in the higher education sector.”

In keeping with UC Merced’s ambitious sustainability objectives, each building will achieve at least LEED Gold certification for energy efficiency. This groundbreaking undertaking serves as a model for expanding public research universities to meet 21st-century challenges, and is the first — and, to date, only — $1 billion social infrastructure public-private partnership project in the U.S.

The unique partnership has garnered numerous awards and recognition from across the country, including being named Social Infrastructure Project of the year at last year’s P3 Awards. The agreement provides UC Merced with contractual assurance that the buildings will be well-maintained for decades. With 600 employees on site every day, the project is expected to generate a total of $1.9 billion in regional economic impact and $2.4 billion in statewide impact through its completion.

“This momentous milestone for UC Merced brings to light the unwavering efforts of the design-build team and the success and innovation a true P3 partnership can bring,” Webcor President and CEO Jes Pedersen said. “This project is also a great example of how Webcor seeks to improve communities and local economies. We’ve made it our mission to utilize the regional subcontracting community, provide education and on-the-job training for UC Merced students, and assist local nonprofits with various projects and support throughout the region.”

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