The University of California, Merced broke ground October 14 on the largest expansion project in campus history. As part of the school's four-year Merced 2020 Project, the new endeavor will add about 1.2 million gross sq-ft of teaching, research, residential and student-support facilities to the existing campus by 2020.

The first phase of new buildings is scheduled for completion in 2018.

School representatives, along with Plenary Properties Merced (PPM) and Webcor Construction, the development team, were on hand at the ground breaking to drive the ceremonial first shovels into the dirt. The $1.3 billion public-private partnership was approved by the UC Board of Regents in July.   

This phase of the Master Plan includes state-of-the-art research labs arranged around a new quadrangle and a multifunctional dining facility. The job also calls for 1,700 beds, as well as classrooms, recreation fields, and a competition pool. The new facilities will be built within a 219-acre site that currently supports the existing campus and its 6,700 students.

The new buildings will fully support UC Merced’s environmental sustainability objectives, including its “Triple Net Zero” goal (zero net energy usage, zero landfill waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020). The campus has been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as one of the greenest in the nation.

The project is expected to create thousands of jobs, primarily in construction, and hundreds of permanent new campus positions as the university expands, according to economic impact studies commissioned by the university. The one-time economic benefit of the project will be an estimated $1.9 billion in the San Joaquin Valley and $2.4 billion statewide, say college officials.

The expansion coincides with a growing demand to attend UC Merced, which opened to students in 2005 as the newest campus in the University of California system and the first American research university built in the 21st century. Last year, the campus received more than 22,000 undergraduate applications for 2,100 spots.

The project will be the first in the UC system to use a single private development team for a multi-year, multi-building project of this scope. PPM will not only design and build all of the new facilities as a single, fast-track project but will also ensure major building systems operate effectively over the 39-year term of the contract, says the school officials. In addition, the developer will be responsible for raising all required private financing as part of the public-private partnership.

The development team of PPM includes Plenary Group, lead developer, equity provider and financial arranger; Webcor Construction LP, lead contractor; Skidmore Owings & Merrill Inc., lead campus planner; and Johnson Controls Inc., lead operations and management firm.

PPM was awarded the contract in June. UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said in news release that the school was impressed by the "creativity, efficiency and aesthetic qualities" evident throughout the winning proposal. The team "produced a compact, environmentally sensitive design that blends beautifully with our existing campus, facilitates our multi-disciplinary teaching and research methods, and provides flexibility for future changes in building usage," said Leland. "Most important, it’s a cost-effective way of building out our campus.”