By Luciana Chavez, Special to Merced College

While campus is quiet, facility upgrades proceed with minimum fuss

The space in and around 3600 M Street has remained mostly quiet during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean the campus is gathering dust.

For the past 10 months, Merced College maintenance staff, electricians and craftspeople have been removing the schmutz while completing three significant remodeling projects and several smaller office upgrades.

First steps
Merced College took a blow when a bond measure on the March 2020 ballot, meant to fund new construction, failed. There were still many projects to complete, so the college got creative.

It started when, last June, Vice President of Administrative Services Joe Allison moved the maintenance staff under the direction of new Director of Capital Projects and Construction Marcus Metcalf. That freed Metcalf to use in-house personnel to remodel and upgrade spaces.

“That was reassuring,” Metcalf said of the shift. “Then, because campus was closed, it cut through the usual hassle and worry about getting in people’s way.”

Student Health Center
They first fashioned a new student health center in the student union.

“The way the pandemic has shown stress to be a detriment to people’s health, it became even more apparent we needed to improve that space,” Metcalf said.

The old center was shoved into a narrow space with no privacy. Now the facility has new exam rooms and a reception area, as well as a separate entry and discrete exit from which students can leave if they are receiving treatment or counseling.

“Students can feel a little more comfort and pride in seeking out services there,” Metcalf said.

Student Food Pantry
The old health center then became the new food pantry. The old pantry operated out of a shipping container. The space was functional, but neither private nor appealing.

“There’s a stigma that goes with food insecurity,” said Dean of Student Services Murrell Green. “It’s hard to attend college while worrying about where to find food. … I think the new food pantry is a phenomenal investment for Merced College students.”

Open Wednesdays from 9-11 a.m., the pantry now has triple the space with new furniture, paint and lighting. The room was also rewired so they could install a washer and dryer for student use. They also built a clothes closet, which now holds winter clothes and business attire for any students who need them.

Most importantly, when students need help, they are welcomed into a private place. “Now there’s more dignity in the process,” Metcalf said.

Lactation Room
New mothers can privately and comfortably pump milk or nurse their babies in a private, keypad-entry only lactation room located behind the pantry.

“We’re excited about the lactation room,” Metcalf said. “We customized it for women who need it.”

Events Office
The college freshened up the events office, relocating an intermediate distribution frame (IDF) for the IT department—a big, black box that is something of an eyesore—from a hallway into an events office closet.

“It’s in a better place with its own air-conditioning,” Metcalf said.

Coming soon
Merced College will keep trying to build up campus infrastructure without big funds to do it. The last of the 2002 bond already paid for the student health center and will partly fund the remodel on the vocational building.

The rest of it, bolstered by a $5 million gift from local farmer Raj Kahlon, will complete the crown jewel of the effort—a 20,000-square-foot Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex.

The college will break ground on the new building in May.

“It’s important to understand that, as we plan projects, even without new bond money, we have not abandoned the Facilities Master Plan,” Metcalf said. “But it’s a fluid document. It changes when it needs changing.”

Stretching dollars
Metcalf estimates the school has saved $150,000 by using in-house staff to complete projects these past 10 months.

For example, while working on the student health center, electricians came to Metcalf saying the building’s electrical capacity was already maxed out. The electricians asked to map out a better configuration before they did their work.

“It has been so rewarding working with teams that have institutional knowledge,” Metcalf said. “I’m working with professionals who know what’s best for campus in the long term.”

Merced College is growing. The Ag-IT Building alone should increase the student body by over 2,500.

The college will eventually need to replace or remodel old facilities. They’ll need new roofs on both campuses and the downtown Business Resource Center, and to upgrade outdated electrical and HVAC on the 58-year-old campus.

“We’re being frugal and doing high-quality work,” Metcalf said. “We’re excited to see our students come back and see the upgrades. Hopefully there will be a buzz about it.”