WEST HILLS — In another sign that the local economy is undergoing a transformation, a Chicago company that runs engineering and business schools has agreed to develop a 15-acre campus on part of the former Hughes Aircraft site.
DeVry Inc. said it has reached an agreement with Coast Federal Bank, which bought the 86-acre Hughes site, and hopes to open for classes by late 1997.
Terms were not disclosed. But Mike DeSantis, a Cushman & Wakefield broker who has been handling the sale, said the parcel that DeVry plans to buy had been listed for sale at about $475,000 per acre.
DeVry expects to employ about 175 teachers and administrators in full- and part-time jobs in West Hills.
"We were looking for an attractive site that would allow for the maximum number of people in the Valley to be serviced," said Ken Rutkowski, vice president of operations at DeVry. Company officials said they also liked the Hughes site because they believe the land is free of environmental problems.
Coast Federal, meanwhile, moved 850 administrative office workers into West Hills from Granada Hills in November after completing earthquake repairs on some buildings at the site.
"We just moved in. We're not moving out," said Michael Pierce, a senior vice president at Coast Federal.
Economist Jack Kyser noted that while it's encouraging to have a former aerospace plant put back into use, the pay and scope of employment there still isn't a match for the former boom days.
"At least the land is not just sitting there. In many cases aerospace facilities are still empty. At least we have been able to recycle this one," said Kyser, an economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
In 1990, Hughes Aircraft employed about 1,900 people at its West Hills missile division. But the company moved its staff to Tucson in 1994, as part of this decade's mass exodus of aerospace jobs.
Since 1990, about 15,000 aerospace jobs have been lost in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys and Ventura County.
DeVry hopes to close the land deal by the end of the year, and plans to offer undergraduate bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering, computer information systems and telecommunications in West Hills. DeVry also plans to offer night classes as part of its graduate MBA program.
Rutkowski said overall student enrollment could reach 2,500.
Although Coast Federal will have a new neighbor, it wants to see the rest of the West Hills property develop into a broader, business office park.
The Valley Job Recovery Corp., a nonprofit group established by Mayor Richard Riordan, still has 18 months left on an option to buy a 30-acre parcel of the old Hughes property.
Rocky Delgadillo, of Riordan's office, said he hopes to announce next month that a group of developers will take over the 30-acre parcel and set up offices for business tenants. The goal, Delgadillo said, is to create another 1,000 jobs at the former Hughes site.
And this week the Los Angeles Police Department told Coast Federal it was interested in buying five acres on the West Hills site for an emergency communications center. Negotiations are still underway, Pierce said.
DeVry, a company with $229 million in sales last year, already has schools in Pomona and Long Beach, and wanted to boost its presence in the Valley.
DeVry officials said they looked at land from Burbank to Simi Valley, but liked the attractive campus-like setting in West Hills, and plan to put up a two-story, 100,000-square-foot classroom building.
Despite the poor local economy in recent years, Rutkowski said he expects his school's graduates to find work.
"The Southern California economy is starting to show signs of rebirth," he said. "It's always been technology-based economy, and that's simply going to come back from growth in different areas, as we see more technology jobs coming out of the movie industry."