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North County colleges expanding, upgrading campuses

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Two North County institutions of higher learning are moving earth and stone, employing sustainable building practices and integrating new technologies in construction projects designed to enhance the educational experience of college students.

Palomar Community College in San Marcos was founded in 1946 and its architecture is based on the K-12 model. According to Bonnie Dowd, Palomar’s assistant superintendent/vice president of finance and administrative services, until last year, the school hadn’t seen a new building in more than 30 years.

Thanks to voters approving a $694 million construction bond measure in 2006, the health sciences building -- the first project funded by Proposition M -- was completed in 2010. It’s far from the last.

In anticipation of achieving its full enrollment projection of 47,500 students in 2022, the district’s master plan calls for improving the campus road system and removing all the old single-story buildings to make way for multi-story instructional buildings. The college currently serves more than 30,000 students.

Construction will begin next year on a new student union building at California State University at San Marcos. Featuring sustainable designs, the building was conceived to be the University's heartbeat. Photo courtesy of California State University at San Marcos.

A $37 million, 111,000-square-foot multidisciplinary building was completed this spring. It houses instruction space for subjects like anthropology, behavioral sciences, business education, religious and multicultural studies.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said Dowd. “We call it the cruise ship because from certain angles it looks like one.”

Dowd, who has worked at the Palomar campus for more than 21 years, said as exciting as it is to see the transformation, the reality is that these buildings will be used for another 30 or 40 years.

“As we move to a wireless campus, there’s an incredible amount of technology going in, especially in technology-driven departments,” she said. “We’re making sure we have infrastructure in place for now and the future.”

The new $6.8 million planetarium is one example. Slated for completion in October, it will use state-of-the-art surround sound and digital full-dome "immersive" technology to make students feel like they’re on the surface of an alien planet or being transported through a nebula.

“Students will experience the concepts they are learning, rather than seeing them displayed as a static picture,” said Planetarium Director Mark Lane. “Most students will tell you they are visual learners, and the new planetarium will be a very visual experience to augment the learning environment.”

Proposition M will help fund 15 new buildings and renovations to 15 others on the San Marcos campus. The $1.2 billion master plan includes building out new land purchased in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo, and renovating satellite campuses.

“The original master plan looked at enrollment demand and that’s where the recommendation came to do smaller campuses or educational centers,” said Dowd.

Land at the Fallbrook site is being cleared in preparation for building a road, and Dowd said buildings are in the planning stages. Architects are also working on plans to make an Escondido educational center located in a strip mall look less like a strip mall, and more like an educational center. That site has served Palomar students for 15 years.

Campus construction is new for Palomar College students, but California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) has been under construction since moving to its permanent home in 1990. The university began with four main buildings and has since grown to 11. The master plan’s projected build out in 2030 will accommodate 25,000 full-time students. Current enrollment stands at roughly 9,000 full- and part-time students.

Faculty is in the process of moving into the newest building on campus in preparation for fall classes. According to Brad Fenton, director of planning, design and construction at CSUSM, the $40 million social and behavioral sciences building had a $29 million construction budget, and was completed on time and on budget in May. The 106,509-square-foot building houses lecture and lab space, including graduate research space, conference rooms and 125 faculty offices.

Fenton said several state-funded projects in the inception phase are on hold until California’s fiscal situation improves. A $100 million athletic complex is also on hold until the university raises money to build it. Fenton said they are looking into private partnerships to fund non-educational facilities, such as the athletic complex and supporting infrastructure, which do not qualify for state funding.

Construction on the first phase of the university’s Student Union will begin in January. The $43.9 million project funded by student fees has a construction budget of $36 million. The contract was awarded to Hornberger Worstell Architects and PCL Construction Service Inc. The project is slated for completion in September 2013 with occupancy in January 2014.

Thanks to a favorable construction market and money set aside for change orders, Fenton said CSUSM was able to increase the original 58,000-square-foot plan – including adding a 9,000-square-foot grand ballroom – to 89,000 square feet.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Fenton.

Designed to be the university’s heartbeat, the Student Union will link upper and lower campus levels with conference rooms, food services, lounges, retail space, meeting rooms, student union and student organizations offices, and recreational areas. Fenton said when the student population doubles in 10 to 15 years, phase two will add more food services, conference rooms and student organization offices.

CSUSM incorporates sustainable building practices and design features into all of its construction projects with the standard goal to achieve LEED Gold certification, according to Fenton. The Student Union will have a green roof, a 100-kilowatt photovoltaic array, a storm water management system and energy efficient mechanical systems.

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