Housing is Down, but California Community College Construction Projects Still Strong

Housing is Down, but California Community College Construction Projects Still Strong
Although California’s real estate may be soft, the state’s community college constructions projects are booming. Learn about where the $1.6 billion is going and how community colleges are improving their facilities.

New construction may be at a standstill for the housing market throughout the West Coast, but that slowdown hasn’t impacted construction enhancements at many community colleges around California. From new student centers to “green” classrooms, the projects at higher education institutions are currently making up a large percentage of the total construction occurring around the state. And since colleges had already earmarked portions of their budget for the enhancements, many schools are saving money, thanks to the lower cost of supplies and property over the past few years. We’ll look at how some California community colleges are gearing up for bigger, better campuses in the not-so-distant future.

50 Projects, $1.6 Billion

According to a recent report at Sign on San Diego, more than 50 construction projects are underway at community colleges and universities across California. The total projected cost for the combined effort is around $1.6 billion, a massive boon to a slumping construction industry where only a few housing projects are still up and running. In addition to the current projects, much more is waiting to begin, ensuring the state's construction industry will continue to find work and revenue for some years.

Boone Hellmann, University of California, San Diego vice chancellor for facilities, design, and construction, told Sign on San Diego, “I think it’s extraordinarily fortunate to have an influx of work in both the community college and university sectors. Over the past two years, I’ve had contractors tell me we’ve been a stalwart in the community in keeping local business operations in existence.”

According to some calculations, the construction at college campuses could make up as much as 10 percent of the total construction projects across the county. The best part is that most money going into these projects comes from donations, grants, and student fees rather than the state budget. In some cases, the money has been earmarked for the particular project for some time, and the lower construction costs due to the slowing economy have resulted in significant savings for some of the schools.

David Umstot, vice chancellor for facilities management at the San Diego Community College District, told Sign on San Diego that two bonds, approved by voters in 2002 and 2006, are providing the current $1.6 billion needed for the 20-year program. Umstot added, “If you look at our estimates three years ago versus what the pricing came in at when bidding out for a project, we’re saving 20 percent below estimates.” The savings are being used for further upgrades and long-range maintenance projects that will save the schools even more in the long run.

New Student Services Building Coming to San Diego Mesa College

Looking more like a state-of-the-art office complex than an addition to a college campus, the design for the new student services building at San Diego Mesa College features four open levels that all circle around a light and airy atrium. The atrium will become a gathering place for students to meet with various department heads to conduct school business. According to the college website, the building will also meet LEED Silver Certification, with an estimated savings of 340,000 kWh annually – 38 percent better than state requirements.

Palomar College Getting New Planetarium

Construction is now underway for a new planetarium on the Palomar College campus. The new planetarium will open in the spring of next year, located between the Natural Science building and the library. The new educational facility will feature a 146-seat capacity and a full-dome projection system. The Palomar College website offers a blog to keep students and interested community members abreast of the progress of the construction project and provide additional information about what the new planetarium will offer the community.

Student Center Offers Mall Feel at Grossmont College

A new student center under construction at Grossmont College will feature more of a mall experience than the standard student gathering place. From the multi-level parking lot to the promenade and caf seating on your way through the front doors, this new building promises to be an attractive location for students to gather information, eat, and socialize. According to the Grossmont College Campus Scene, the new center will be an eclectic mix of student services and classrooms, with plenty of dining options and ample room to relax and socialize. The center is scheduled to open by December 2011.

Dale Switzer, Grossmont College Senior Director of Facilities Planning, told the Campus Scene, “A new student center has been in the planning for well over 10 years. The design that has resulted from many iterations will surely serve the students as a home away from home. Although we have built an enormous number of teaching facilities on this campus, the heart of every college is the Student Center. It is a place where students can meet and enjoy each other outside of the confines of the classroom.”

Construction may be slow in other parts of the state. Still, community colleges across the university continue to pump money into the local economy while enhancing the college experience for their students. From new educational opportunities to fun, upscale environments where students are encouraged to get to know one another, the future of community colleges in California remains bright.

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