An exuberant spirit prevailed on a recent evening to mark Phase 2 of UC Merced’s 2020 expansion project, but it was a bittersweet celebration as the sun was setting on Chancellor Dorothy Leland’s tenure.
UC administrators, business partners, local dignitaries and many others gathered on campus to observe the changing landscape and honor those who have worked tirelessly to advance the ambitious growth project — including Leland who has been at the helm for the past eight years.
However, on this occasion, Chancellor Leland was saying her goodbyes because she was set to retire the next day.
Students expressed the impact she had made in their lives during a video shown during the program. They said it was her encouragement and her dedication to seeing them succeed that motivated them to believe in themselves, do their best, and pursue further education.
One student who spoke during the program was Janna Glaze, who was born and raised in Merced, graduated from UC Merced during Leland’s tenure with a Mechanical Engineering degree, and went on to receive a Ph.D from Stanford.
Describing the encouragement she received from Leland, Glaze said, “She made me what I am today.”
Responding to the video, Leland said, “Students inspire me each and every day, and I think they represent the changing face of California.”
She added, “The focus will necessarily shift from the buildings we have now constructed to the research and learning that will happen in these buildings, thereby further enhancing our academic and research stature, increasing our graduation rates, and providing even more access and opportunity to California’s emerging citizenry, many of whom are low income, under-represented and first-generation students.”
Cecilia Estolano, Vice Chair of the UC governing board, said, “Over half of UC Merced’s students are Latino. Over 60 percent are low income. My favorite UC Merced statistic is it has the second highest number of people going off to Ph.D programs, second to UC Berkeley, the first campus.”
As was brought out during the program, it was Leland’s innovative thinking and determination that saved the day for the campus in the tough economy of the past several years. When it looked like there was no funding to build out, Leland sought a public/private partnership to assist, which made history as a first in the University of California system.
During an interview with the Times, Leland recalled, “None of the traditional ways were working. The state had stopped funding building. The campus would not have survived if it could not grow.”
The perfect solution was found when the project brought on board Plenary Properties Merced, an international development team selected to design, build, partially finance, operate and maintain major building systems for the project. Other partners which came on were Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architect, and Webcor Builders, the construction contractor. A unique aspect of the project was a 35-year contract with Johnson Controls, the operations and maintenance subcontractor, which provides that the buildings will be well maintained for decades.
During the program, Dale Bonner, executive chairman of Plenary Concessions, said, “The reason the project is so successful is the chancellor really exudes the notion of partnership. We worked through the hard issues that got us to where we are today.”
Ed Klotzbier, UC Merced vice chancellor, said, “It’s all due to her tenacity and leadership.”
Describing his complete satisfaction with the project which broke ground in October 2016, he said, “800 cubic feet of concrete were poured. There were 500 workers each day. We’re on time and on budget.”
Phase 2, which was completed on Aug. 1, will be available for students when they start the semester on August 28.
Construction of Phase 2 cost about $250 million.
It mainly consists of two buildings — Arts & Occupational Sciences, which has a theater/lecture hall with a 15 ft. x 50 ft. projection screen, a recording studio and dance studio, and Sustainability Research and Engineering, which houses the Center of Excellence dedicated to sustainability, and has a Makers’ Space and a Machine Shop.
The two lab buildings total 171,476 square feet.
Describing the Arts building, Kenneth Mashinchi, senior public information officer for UC Merced’s Division of External Relations, said, “UC Merced’s Global Arts, Media and Writing Studies Department will use the new spaces the most. Various classes will be held in each of the new studios and theater, and students involved in the annual Shakespeare in Yosemite production will rehearse in these spaces.”
Mashinchi described the Sustainability, Research and Engineering building, saying, “Both the Makers Space and Machine Shop will be primarily used by our engineering departments, although other departments will have access as needed. The Makers Space provides students and faculty the opportunity to create innovative projects and conduct research.”
Other Phase 2 facilities are a recreation area consisting of a mixed use field for soccer, football and lacrosse, an underground loading dock, and a research server building. Additionally, 150 beds were added to on-campus student housing.
Mashinchi explained, “The Research Server is a modular server building enabling electronic storage of research. It will house the servers for current and future research on campus. It also provides a level of stability, with redundant and emergency power.
“The regional loading dock will be located beneath the Academic Quad, allowing for a more flexible and adaptable loading area that doesn’t interrupt activities in the quad.”
Construction of Phase 3 has already started and is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2020.
Mashinchi said, “Phase 3 is the final phase of the Merced 2020 Project. It will consist of seven buildings, including additional mixed-use residential housing, a Biosafety Level 3 lab where faculty and students can research infectious diseases such as Valley fever, a research greenhouse, a conference center, a student wellness and counseling center, and a student enrollment center. There will also be a competition swimming pool.”
The end result of the $1.3 billion 2020 project will be 13 new buildings that will pave the way for the enrollment to reach 10,000 students.
The buildings on the campus are unique in that their design and construction use methods which increase energy savings, water efficiency, and emission reduction, and enhance indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources.
Leland said, proudly, “Every single building in this project is LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified at the very highest level — platinum. We will be carbon neutral by 2020.”
When asked if she will stay in touch with the project in retirement, the 71-year-old chancellor said that she will be involved with the Oversight Board for the 2020 Project “to see it to its successful conclusion”.
She will also continue to be involved in expanding the university’s relationship with Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon.
She said, “We are leveraging research so the park manager makes good decisions about management of the public lands. I will broker it.”
On a personal note, Leland is looking forward to spending time with her grandchild, and soon, a second grandchild, who is on the way.
She will have more time to enjoy her hobby, nature photography.
She exclaimed, “I forbid you to give me a rocking chair because I won’t use it.”