Two regent committees recommended approval of several key planning and development items for the new UC Merced campus, scheduled to open in fall 2004, during the University of California Board of Regents meeting yesterday.

Both the Committee on Grounds and Buildings and the Committee on Finance recommended that the full board of regents approve the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) during its meeting today.

“This is a significant moment for the University, as we have not built a new campus since the early 1960s,” UC President Richard Atkinson said in a statement. “Because of an expected demographic upsurge, the University of California will need to absorb an additional 60,000 students this decade. UC Merced will play a critical role in providing continuing access to the University for these students.”

UC Merced – the 10th UC campus – is located in the middle of the Central Valley, 45 minutes from Yosemite National Park, and will serve 25,000 students when complete.

“The actions taken today will enhance educational access and economic opportunity for the San Joaquin Valley, provide for preservation of more than 34 square miles of natural habitat in eastern Merced County, and create a model for sustainable growth in the region,” California Governor and ex officio Regent Gray Davis said in a statement.

The 2,000-page EIR, published earlier this month, describes the new campus’ conservation program which will result in the preservation of over 22,000 acres of vernal pool habitat, with thousands of additional acres to be preserved in coming years.

“The Regents’ enthusiastic approval of the LRDP and our vision for campus development is very encouraging,” UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey said in her own statement. “We now look forward to building the nation’s first major research university of the 21st century.”

The LRDP guides the physical development of the campus from groundbreaking – which is slated to occur this year – until the final touches are in place after 2030.

In other business:

The Regents’ committees recommended approval of infrastructure plans for the first phase of UC Merced development, which will provide a link to county and city services such as water and electricity.

The committees also recommended the approval of funds to build Garden Suites, composed of about 130 student apartments, and the 11,000 square-foot Lakeview Dining facility.