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CSU Chancellor Backs Hospital as Campus Site

Education: He says conversion of Camarillo facility would save money, but trustees must act quickly to head off other possible buyers.

September 11, 1996|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Cal State's chancellor on Tuesday said he would like to see the university take over the sprawling Camarillo State Hospital grounds for its long-promised campus in Ventura County and lease unneeded buildings to help cover costs.

Chancellor Barry Munitz said it would be quicker and cheaper to turn the soon-to-close mental hospital into a four-year college campus than to build one from scratch on a nearby 260-acre lemon orchard owned by the university.

He said he will urge Cal State's board of trustees today to authorize the university's informal bid for the hospital grounds, provided the trustees are comfortable with moving beyond their traditional role of academic stewards to become creative entrepreneurs and property managers.

"It is not a role that academic institutions usually play," Munitz said. But, he said, "in this day and age of fiscal constraints, I think that is what a public university has to think about doing."

Cal State administrators are seeking direction from the trustees because they are scheduled to make a presentation next week before a task force studying alternative uses for Camarillo State Hospital.

The task force was set up by Gov. Pete Wilson, who has ordered the 60-year-old institution shut down, saying it is no longer economical to operate.

At the Cal State board meeting today, Vice Chancellor Richard P. West will outline five scenarios to launch the long-delayed Ventura County campus, recently named Cal State Channel Islands.

Two of the proposals focus on building the campus on the lemon orchard just west of Camarillo, costing taxpayers between $120 million and $160 million by the year 2006.

The three others focus on leasing about one-fifth of the mental hospital's buildings or taking over the entire 603-acre hospital site and renting unused buildings to other educational institutions or university-related businesses.

Preliminary conversion costs range from $60 million to $80 million by the year 2006--depending on how many courses are taught in traditional classrooms and how many are offered through video teleconferencing or on-line through the Internet.

West said that taking over the entire hospital would give the university maximum flexibility to expand with its enrollment in coming decades.

It would also give Cal State an opportunity to help pay for the campus by leasing unoccupied buildings or developing surrounding property. That prospect looks appealing to university officials at a time when there are precious few dollars available for new construction.

"It's a way of making this happen," said West, who is in charge of Cal State's business operations and finances. "If we wait for a traditional budget, I don't see this campus developing very quickly."

To make this work, West said, the university would need financial help from state government and cooperation from local governments.

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As part of the financial brainstorming, West said the university might seek local zoning changes to allow development of surrounding land for businesses or homes that the university could sell--much the way UC Irvine has done to generate income.

Handel Evans, acting president of Cal State Channel Islands, said he has had some preliminary discussions with Ventura County community college officials about leasing space to offer lower-division classes at the site.

He has also been talking to business leaders about establishing university-related research centers on the hospital grounds and setting up a laboratory school for special education students run by the Ventura County superintendent of schools.

"When the hospital closes, [county school Supt.] Chuck Weis has the responsibility for looking out for all of the children from Ventura County who have been going to school there," Evans said.

"He and I have discussed keeping the school there as a joint project," Evans said, which could work well with Cal State's programs for special-education teachers.

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Besides Cal State, five other agencies have expressed interest in using at least a portion of the hospital grounds--the California Youth Authority, the University of California, the California Conservation Corps, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

So far, the Youth Authority is the only agency other than Cal State seriously interested in taking over the entire institution, said Kevin Eckery, deputy secretary of the State & Consumer Services Agency, which is coordinating the governor's task force.

The Youth Authority's correctional facilities, including the 1,000-bed Ventura School in Camarillo, are operating near capacity. And corrections officers are trying to plan for the projected increase in juvenile violent crime.

Youth Authority officials this week are working feverishly on their proposal to turn a portion of the hospital into a center for young adult offenders with special medical or mental-health needs.

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