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Southwestern College releases plans for expansion

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In what Southwestern College officials are calling the largest new project since its opening, the community college has released expansion plans.

The estimated $55 million project calls for a college center that will include classrooms, a bookstore and space for the Chula Vista community.

"This development will allow us to create jobs for our residents, offer more classes to our students and further our college's reputation as a center of civic engagement and culture," said Dr. Raj K. Chopra, superintendent and president of Southwestern College. "We are grateful to the community for their energy and ideas and for passing the bond measure that made this project possible."

The project will be built on the campus's 9.4-acre vacant lot on the corner of Otay Lakes Road and East H Street.

Once construction is finished, Southwestern College -- which was originally constructed in 1961 -- will have several new structures that will all connect to a new 110,000-square-foot bookstore, various new classrooms, an art gallery, new culinary arts program, a wellness center, administrative offices, conference space, a new police station and food court. There will also be 800 parking spaces created.

This development is being made possible through Proposition R, a $389 million bond measure that was passed by South County voters in 2008 that allows for repairs and new construction at Southwestern's four campuses. It also imposes a tax on South County residents so that the project’s construction bonds can be paid off.

"No money from (Southwestern’s) budget will be used to pay for these new facilities," said Chris Bender, spokesman for Southwestern College.

The proposition needed 55 percent voter approval; it received 71 percent.

The project isn’t expected to start until April 2011, after the design of the project is completely done and approved by California’s Division of State Architects. According to Bender, construction will take 18-24 months to complete.

Bender said the plans released are conceptual designs and that the final look of the project won't be complete until community workshops are held, from now until October, so that South Bay residents can have a say on the final designs.

The project is being designed to reach LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council with sustainable features like water and energy efficient fixtures.

BCA Architects and Seville Construction Services are leading the project’s design and are using the college’s interpretive Mayan architecture as its blueprint.

Southwestern College issued a Request for Proposals in December 2009 for the project, and 41 firms responded. The process was narrowed to seven finalists who participated in a design competition, which included input from the college’s superintendent and president, vice presidents and members of faculty, classified staff and community.

No general contractor has been hired yet.

Bender said it has not been determined whether these new facilities will allow for new staff to be hired or if student enrollment will be allowed to increase, since student capacity is based on the school’s budget.

Southwestern College, which serves 22,000 students each semester, is currently under academic probation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for issues dealing with the college's governance and its sluggish work and learning environment. According to Bender, a decision on whether the school’s probation is revoked or its accreditation gets completely removed is expected in early 2011.

"We want to stress that this doesn’t affect the (project) nor the type of education we provide," Bender said. "We are still open for business. Our classes are still transferable."

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