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Great Park kicks out Cal State Fullerton's Irvine campus

March 08, 2009|Paloma Esquivel
  • Park builder Lennar Corp. extended Cal State Fullerton's lease until the end of June. But school officials say they had hoped to keep the satellite campus at the Great Park location. The last-minute wrangling has students uneasy.
Park builder Lennar Corp. extended Cal State Fullerton's lease until… (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles…)

Cal State Fullerton officials stood at the old El Toro Marine base about seven years ago and proclaimed a new era with the opening of a campus extension. Eventually, school officials said, the campus would become a sprawling satellite merging education and recreation at Irvine's planned Great Park. Perhaps, some thought, it might even become California's newest state university.

Now the college has been booted to prepare for private development. School officials are scrambling to find a new site before the lease expires in four months, leaving the future of educational facilities at the Great Park unclear.

The last-minute wrangling has students wondering how to prepare.

The effect of the move could be anything from "extreme impact to slight inconvenience. We just don't know," said Adam Brinton, 30, a psychology major. "For them not to take into consideration that we need to plan for a move shows a lack of foresight."

In fact, school officials planned for years to make a permanent campus at the site of Irvine's proposed mega-park. Initial proposals called for setting aside nearly 300 acres for an even larger campus.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, March 12, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Campus closing: The headline on an article in Sunday's California section said the Great Park kicked out Cal State Fullerton's Irvine campus. The land that the Irvine campus occupies belongs to Lennar Corp., and it was the home builder that declined to renew the school's lease.

When Irvine signed a deal with Lennar Corp. to develop the Great Park, the firm proposed building a "Lifelong Learning District" that would include a combined college campus for several schools. Many school and city officials assumed that Cal State Fullerton's Irvine campus would be incorporated into the district.

Now, with two Great Park residential neighborhoods on hold because of the economy, the builder says it wants to prepare to develop the land for the learning district. And, because plans call for razing the campus' building, that means Cal State Fullerton's satellite campus and its nearly 2,000 students have to go.

Carol Wold, a community affairs official with Lennar, could not say what kind of educational services would eventually occupy the learning district.

University officials said Lennar had accommodated the school by extending its lease until the end of June.

But Jack Smart, who is in charge of property acquisition for the satellite campus, acknowledged that the hope had been to have a "permanent presence" at the future Great Park.

Lennar, Smart said, "knew of our interest in staying."

In the last few months, officials have looked at a number of possible sites, but none has worked out.

"It wasn't as though we were sitting around doing nothing," Willie Hagan, the university's vice president for administration and finance, said in response to criticism that the school has been dragging its feet in finding another location. He declined to name any of the sites, saying school officials might need to revisit them if current negotiations fall through.

Officials are in talks for a spot for the school at the Irvine Spectrum, a sprawling outdoor mall and office complex about four miles from the satellite campus, but have not finalized an agreement, said Susan Cooper, dean of the Irvine campus.

Even if a lease is settled soon, she said, the building would have to be remodeled to create classrooms.

Several students on campus said they were unsure about the future -- and worried they might not have time to prepare for a switch to the main campus. Psychology majors Danielle Hogan, 31, and Sara Nekou, 24, said they worried they might have to make a longer drive to an area with less parking.

Michael Elms, 24, said he was frustrated by the lack of information.

"Nobody knows too much right now about what's going to happen," he said.

Smart said he was "hopeful that things will come together."

He held out the possibility that the school might one day return to the Great Park.

"The former base is the best location in Orange County," he said. "Whether [a return] is likely, I couldn't say."

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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