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Saddleback College Unveils $60M Addition

Saddleback College opened its new student services center last month, marking the completion of one of the larger new construction projects in South Orange County of late.

The finished project, dubbed the Gateway building, measures 79,000 square feet and was financed by a combination of district and state funding for a total of $60 million.

The three-story building, located across the street from the Shops at Mission Viejo, has a collection of student services—including admissions, financial aid and counseling—on the bottom levels and classrooms on the upper level.

“We wanted to design a new building that fit the way we want to deliver student services,” Saddleback President Elliot Stern told the Business Journal.

900K-SF Campus

The Gateway building is the largest addition to Saddleback College, the largest community college in South OC by 400,000 square feet, since the school’s science building opened in 2016.

Currently, the largest building on campus is the 101,000-square-foot library and learning resource center, which was built in 1973.

The school’s campus now runs nearly 900,000 square feet.

Officials hope the building’s modern design features, based on high-end retail centers like Apple stores, invites students to take more advantage of the resources on campus.

“These services are not hidden away but are prominently on display, creating an environment that enhances student access and support,” South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) Chancellor Julianna Barnes told the Business Journal in an email.

Saddleback is one of two schools operating under the umbrella of SOCCCD, along with Irvine Valley College.

The Mission Viejo project was built by McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., which has a local office in Newport Beach.

McCarthy also constructed the recently opened $61 million Arts Village at IVC; see the March 4 print edition of the Business Journal for more on IVC’s latest addition.

Construction of the Gateway building began in November 2021 and was completed last December, according to project director at McCarthy Robert Ragland.

Transforming Campus

Other buildings on Saddleback’s campus, which opened in 1968 and now counts 43 buildings, are also getting an updated look.

Two large projects are expected to be completed in one year from now.

Saddleback’s new math and science buildings are currently under development and will replace one of the oldest buildings on campus, which has already been torn down.

The nearly 50,000-square-foot building will have three stories dedicated to STEM programs such as computer science and cybersecurity.

“It’s really a time of transformational change for the campus,” President Stern said.

ATEP Update

Off campus, and on the grounds of Tustin’s former military base, SOCCCD is adding a pair of buildings within the Advanced Technology and Education Park (ATEP); the latest additions broke ground last March.

The 61.4-acre complex within the Tustin Legacy development, which serves students of Saddleback and IVC, includes IVC’s School of Integrated Design, Engineering and Automation. The building opened in April 2018 after two years of construction.

The two newest buildings, for Saddleback’s use, will house the school’s culinary arts and advanced transportation programs, which serve about 400 students each.

Culinary students will move out of a portable classroom into a 20,0000-square-foot building that is slated to have four commercial kitchens and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating for approximately 70 people.

The new technologies at ATEP will especially benefit the auto tech program, which has shifted focuses to electric and autonomous vehicles, officials said.

The new auto building is a few miles from the headquarters of Rivian Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: RIVN), among other notable EV firms based in the area.

“We think that’s where the future of that industry is,” Stern said.

A main feature of the 30,000-square-foot auto tech building is an auto shop with 14 lifts, as well as a lab for calibrating automotive radar systems.

“Both of these programs really needed new facilities that were more state-of-the-art,” Stern said.

Stern hopes ATEP’s central location in Tustin will help connect students to both EV firms as well as more established automakers in the area like Hyundai Motor America in Fountain Valley, which last year counted 640 employees in Orange County and 775,000 vehicles sold.

The Tustin hangar fire that first started on Nov. 7 hasn’t hindered construction as much as the recent rainstorms have, according to Stern.

“Our biggest enemy out there has been rain as has been the case for all construction,” Stern said.

“Sometimes it’s difficult and we ask for everybody’s patience and tolerance.”

Increasing Enrollment

Student enrollment at Saddleback College has returned to pre-pandemic numbers, Stern said.

The college currently counts 25,000 students for this year. Last year, it enrolled about 7,000 full-time students and an additional 16,000 part-time students.

Its most popular programs are real estate and nursing, the latter of which was recently named No. 1 in the country for license exam pass rates, according to Stern.

Stern attributes the recent enrollment growth to a combination of efforts to attract new students in different areas.

Since the pandemic, Saddleback has become a Hispanic Serving Institution and increased marketing to “stopouts,” or students who temporarily withdraw from school.

“We recognize that our community is changing and that we have to change in order to provide access to our institution,” Stern said.

In addition to offering low tuition fees like most California community colleges, a majority of Saddleback’s classes now have zero textbook fees.

“We’re able to lower barriers for students and welcome back folks who thought it was too expensive,” Stern said.

Intuitive Design

The entrances to each floor of Saddleback College’s new Gateway building were designed with the needs of students in mind, according to President Elliot Stern.

“This is the first time we’ve leveraged the topography of our campus,” Stern said.
Built onto a hill, the building has separate entrances to the first and second floor.

Resources for new and prospective students are made readily available on the first floor, which is close to a lot with short-term parking often used by visitors.

On the first floor, students will be immediately greeted by a “genius bar,” modeled after Apple’s technical support area, with around 10 iMac computers.

Students can join a waiting queue from their phones to receive help from staff with admission and records and financial aid, among other things.

“It’s all digital queuing, so there are no physical lines anywhere in this building,” Stern said.

Alternatively, the second floor opens out to the main quad for students more familiar with the campus.

It houses services more geared toward current students such as the career center and transfer center.

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