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Plans for Temecula Education Center continue to take shape

To meet the growing demand for educational services in fast-growing Southwest California, plans are moving forward for an innovative, home-grown college campus that would bring at least six higher-education institutions together under one roof near the northern border of Temecula with Murrieta.

Plans for the Temecula Education Center, which is expected to cost $80 million to build, include a conference center, stores, five-story classroom buildings, apartments or condominiums, staff offices and a day-care center. The project will total more than 600,000 square feet, and will include a three-story parking garage and an outdoor grass amphitheater and stage.

The Temecula Education Center, which is expected to cost $80 million to build, will bring together classes from the University of California, Riverside; California State University, San Marcos; Mt. San Jacinto Community College; Point Loma Nazarene University and Concordia University.

"The fact is you have a disproportionately large percentage of well-educated people in the Temecula Valley, and as a consequence of that you are going to have heavier demand for higher educational services," economist John Husing said. "It's a very smart strategy for a community that prides itself on being well-educated."

Southwest California is a sprawling, 597-square-mile area that takes in Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, Temecula, Wildomar and Winchester.

The developer and project backers say the complex will be unique for this region because it will involve several colleges and include education, housing, retail, child-care and other uses. The project, which has been in the discussion and planning stages for about five years, will be undertaken by the city, area education institutions and A.G. Kading, a Capistrano Beach developer.

Plans call for the project to include a conference center, stores, five-story classroom buildings, apartments or condominiums, staff offices and a day-care center. The project will total more than 600,000 square feet, and will include a three-story parking garage and an outdoor grass amphitheater and stage.

The facility is designed to serve many different types of individuals within the community, according to architect Gary Wiggle.

"It's really a valley education center," he said. "It's not only for the high school kid who graduated and is going on to school, but it's also for work force education, which the business community has told us time and time again is extremely important."

Southwest California already is within a one-hour drive of nearly two dozen private and public colleges and universities, including University of California, San Diego; San Diego State University; California State University, San Marcos; California State University, San Bernardino; and Mount San Jacinto Community College.

In addition to the educational opportunities, Southwest California's proximity to this cluster of nationally known schools provides business in the region with access to 151,068 students, many with the skills needed in a high-tech environment.

For companies such as Guidant Corp. and Southwest Healthcare, the Temecula Education Center will help its engineers get higher education closer to their work and homes.

Nearly 2,000 parking spaces will be available, and nearly 61,000 square feet of retail space will be built primarily to serve students and residents of the complex.

"A student can live, get a degree, have childcare and work all within walking distance to home," Temecula Mayor Jeff Comerchero said.

Better educational facilities in the region are expected to help boost salaries and bring the region's emerging technology base closer to the research and development centers that are creating the miracle products of tomorrow.

One of the goals of the Southwest California Economic Alliance is to attract higher wage employers to the region. As more residents are moving to the area from San Diego and Orange counties, the skill level increases. Many of these "transplants" are well educated, skilled workers that were tired of paying exorbitant prices for a home, especially when they found that they could have an equally high quality of life, send their children to the best schools in the state and live in an executive style home for about a third less.

Over the years, Southwest California has benefited greatly from its proximity to San Diego, the top life sciences center in the nation according to a study by the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica-based think tank. San Diego beat out traditional biotech strongholds such as Boston and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metro area for the top ranking.

"Clusters of existing and emerging science-based technologies are crucial factors in shaping the economic winners and losers of the first half of the 21st century," the study said.

Many of Southwest California's residents commute to jobs in neighboring counties. San Diego's life sciences industry is responsible for 55,600 jobs and $5.8 billion in income - 5.3 percent of the region's economic output.

San Diego's universities and private research institutes spawned much of the biotech growth in the 1990s. According to a report in Nature, the University of California at San Diego produced 69 biotech and high-tech firms, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies launched 17, and The Scripps Research Institute developed 40 companies. Recently, large pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough have discovered the region as well.

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