Merced College breaks ground on new Ag complex
Merced College supporters and government leaders joined in with educators to break ground Wednesday on the 29,000-square-foot Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex, kicking off construction of the first new building on campus in more than a decade.
“Merced College has been educating students in agriculture and related fields for decades in the historically underserved San Joaquin Valley,” said California’s Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who attended the event along with U.S. Rep. Jim Costa and State Assembly member Adam Gray. “Countless students in this region will benefit from this beautiful new space, and in turn they will bring benefits back to the region through their education and service. The future is bright in Merced.”
The ceremony highlighted the college’s flagship agricultural programs. Once moved into the state-of-the-art building, the program will be positioned to train more students for well-paying and plentiful jobs in agriculture, industrial technology, and other related workforce programs in this region.
“This is a capital project many years in the making,” Merced College President Chris Vitellisaid. “As an agricultural community, and an institution of higher education committed to training our future workforce in ag and related industries, we are proud to provide this incredible new facility to better serve our students, faculty and partners.”
Assembly member Gray said: “This really shows what happens when state, local, and private resources all come together in the right way. Raj Kahlon’s generosity and President Vitelli’s leadership made this an easy sell. Working together, we brought then Lt. Governor Newsom down to tour Merced College and learn about this project firsthand. Just a few months later, we delivered by securing the final piece of funding in the State Budget. Sometimes we have to fight a little bit harder to get the recognition we deserve in the Valley, but in this case, I am proud to say we got our fair share.”
Congressman Costa added, “It fills me with pride that Valley students who want to dedicate their lives to agriculture production will have a new, high-tech facility to hone their craft,” Costa said. “California agriculture feeds the world! I’m honored to have Lt. Gov. Kounalakishere to see how underserved students from the San Joaquin Valley have the opportunity to train for a career that has an impact across the globe.”
The Merced College Board of Trustees approved the $20,971,000 construction bid from F&H Construction out of Lodi on May 11. The full cost of the project will be $24,894,000.
The Merced College AgIT building is a publicly funded project using $12.6 million from a 2002 local bond and $12.3 million in matching funds from the state via Proposition 51, a community college capital projects bond from 2016.
Local farmer Raj Kahlon is contributing $5 million through a venture partnership with the college. It is the largest donation commitment in school history and the funds will go towards ongoing support of the agricultural programs. As a result, the complex is named after Kahlon.
Construction is expected to take 15 months and should be completed in August 2022.
Darden Architects out of Fresno designed the complex on the northern edge of campus. Darden is a frequent collaborator with the College, having also designed the Plaza Project, the first phase of which was completed in 2019.
The animal science, crop science, plant science and horticulture programs will move out of buildings original to the campus from the 1970s when they take up residence in the new AgIT building next year.
The project will include new labs and an upgrade in training equipment for industrial technology programs in HVAC, industrial maintenance, electronics and computer networking.
Merced College ag department faculty, who had occupied offices in a handful of different buildings since the College opened, will now have a central home in the AgIT complex.
The complex will also house conference rooms for staff and a dedicated room for agstudent leadership groups. There will be a courtyard area for events and a multi-use room that can accommodate large groups or be split into two classrooms.