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Saddleback Unveils Career Technical Education Building

Investment Represents 'New Opportunities' for Students

Rooms in the new Advanced Technology and Applied Sciences (ATAS) building at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo still have ceilings with exposed pipes and infrastructure.

That’s no accident, according to Nawar Al Juburi, senior project manager at South Orange County Community College District.

“The exposed fire protection, heating, ventilation, air conditioning [and] piping are all a teaching tool,” Al Juburi told the Business Journal during a tour of the new facility.

The nearly 53,000-square-foot ATAS building, with a construction cost reported at $53 million, marks a new home for the community college’s career technical education faculty and students in the disciplines of architecture, advanced manufacturing, environmental studies, horticulture and electronic technology, among other courses.

The two-story facility, fitted with solar panels and large windows that maximize natural light and conserve energy, earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating. The building also features webcasting technology that allows students to attend lectures online, a security system that can lock down the entire building with the push of a button and new computer numerical control (CNC) machinery.

“There’s a misconception that you don’t get the same superior instruction, services and facilities at a community college campus,” Letitia Clark, chief communications officer of the South Orange County Community College District, told the Business Journal. “But this is state of the art. If you were to go to Cal State Fullerton or UCI, our facilities are comparable.”

Officials hope the new building will draw more students to its career technical education program, the “bread and butter” of Saddleback College.

“Any time we open a new building on one of our college campuses, it is a literal and
figurative representation of openings and opportunities for students,” South Orange Community College District Board President Marcia Milchiker told the Business Journal via email. “The investment of resources made toward Saddleback College’s ATAS building will benefit students for generations to come and provide a meaningful return year after year.”

New Home

Prior to the ATAS building, professors felt their labs and classrooms, housed in an older building with outdated technology, posed an obstacle to increasing student enrollment in the career technical education program.

“Now our buildings can match the level of faculty we have here,” Clark said, noting that Saddleback College has always attracted “top-tier” professors, who also teach at UCI and at California State University schools.

Input from professors was integral to the building’s planning stages, which began in 2018. Two years later, construction company McCarthy Building Cos., which has a local office in Newport Beach, broke ground on the $53 million project. The facility, designed by Southfield, Mich.-based architecture firm HED, was completed in June.

The new ATAS building will also help reinvigorate the local workforce, since “at the state level, we’re facing a skills gap issue,” Clark said.

By attracting more students to Saddleback College, the new facility will help bridge the current workforce gap, according to Clark. Many of Saddleback College’s career technical education alumni are able to land a job shortly after they graduate, officials said.

Students in the program make up about 22% of Saddleback College’s 22,264 student population, which includes those enrolled in credit and noncredit courses.

Online Option

The new ATAS building comes as students across the country return to in-person learning following the decline in COVID-19 cases.

“While we now live in a world where almost everything can be done virtually, physical space still matters,” South Orange County Community College District Chancellor Julianna Barnes told the Business Journal in an email. “In these physical spaces, we spend much of our time working and learning, producing and creating—even developing our sense of place in this world.”

Many, however, project that online learning will continue to be a fixture of education.

The virtual learning market surpassed $315 billion last year, and is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 20% to 2028, according to industry research firm Global Market Research Pvt. Ltd.

The new ATAS building at Saddleback College reflects this projected virtual learning trend. Its classrooms and labs are equipped with smart cameras that follow professors around the room as well as mega microphones that can pick up even the slightest movements in the space.

“If you drop a pen, you can hear it,” Al Juburi said.

Other colleges and school districts have even reached out to South Orange County Community College District to emulate its webcasting tech, officials said.

“We see this as the future,” Al Juburi said.

“So, we’re getting ahead.”

­Upcoming Projects

Feedback on the ATAS building has been largely positive.

“Whether it’s a student or faculty member, everybody’s super excited and appreciative of this new facility,” Al Juburi said.

The ATAS building is one of many upcoming construction projects for Saddleback College.

Other projects in the works include the Saddleback College Gateway Building, a student services center that will connect students and visitors to the campus; the building is currently under construction and is expected to open in fall next year.

A building dedicated to science and math students, which will replace the oldest building on campus, is also expected to open next year.

Another new facility at the school’s Advanced Technology and Education Park on the grounds of Tustin’s former military base, specializing in the culinary art and automotive disciplines, is projected to begin construction in December.

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