August 26, 2002 Vol. VII, No. 1

CSUN's current Engineering Building. built in 1965 and due for renovation.

21st Century Building for 21st Century Programs?

Proposition 47 State Education Bond Proposal Contains Funding for CSUN Engineering Renovation

Cal State Northridge long has been widely recognized for its exceptional, cutting-edge academic programs in fields such as engineering, computer science and the health sciences. But now the question iswill the university's programs of the 21st century have a 21st century building with the latest lab set-ups and equipment to call home.

California voters will decide this November 5 whether to approve Proposition 47, a $13 billion school bond measure that would fund a range of K12 and higher education projects. Included in the package is $14.7 million to totally renovate CSUN's 37-year-old Engineering Building to provide modern and sophisticated lab, classroom and office areas.

Although the four-story building received federally funded seismic upgrades and cosmetic work such as new paint after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the layout of the building, its core systems for heating and cooling, plumbing and electricity, and much of its contents have remained basically unchanged since its opening in 1965.

"The programs we offer to our students are state-of-the-art in many areas, and we have acquired much state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and instrumentation in recent years," said S.T. Mau, new dean of CSUN's College of Engineering and Computer Science.

"But it's becoming increasingly difficult for our programs to keep pace when they have to operate in a building that was designed and outfitted in the 1960s," said Mau.

As an example, CSUN and other universities didn't even have computer science programs when the Engineering Building was built. So its core systems were never intended to carry the huge demands created in today's world, where power-hungry computers are everywhere and where complex lab experiments require sophisticated environmental controls.

The university's College of Health and Human Development, which also uses space in the building, would similarly benefit through improved facilities for its programs including physical therapy and environmental and occupational health. Both colleges also offer graduate programs, where the demands for sophisticated facilities are even greater.

In the early 1990s, now a decade ago, CSUN already had nearly completed plans to redo the Engineering Building. But then the Northridge earthquake struck and the renovation project was deferred as the campus' focus shifted to its $400 million earthquake recovery. With that now completed, the Engineering Building renovation is back as a top priority.

Under the plans, much of the current space inside the building would be reconfigured to meet modern educational demands, combining small, enclosed areas now into larger spaces. Data networks, lighting, acoustics, electrical systems and ventilation all would be redone. Classrooms, labs and restrooms would be modified to better accommodate disabled access.

The Cal State system, as well as the rest of public education in California, relies on voter-approved state education bond measures like Prop. 47 to fund most of its facility needs, since those typically are not funded through the state budget. If approved by a majority of state voters, the cost of Prop. 47 would be paid from state revenues, not through tax increases.

Of the $13 billion in school projects funded under Prop. 47, $11.4 billion would go toward K12 education to relieve overcrowding, accommodate new students and upgrade aging school facilities. The remaining $1.65 billion would go toward California public higher education, including $496 million for projects in the 23-campus Cal State system.

While conceding that old and inadequate school facilities in California are a serious problem that needs to be addressed, opponents of Prop. 47 have argued that taking on more bond debt could harm the state's finances. They also have complained that the state school construction process takes too long for new schools to be built.

Proponents of Prop. 47 have argued that students can't learn and teachers can't properly teach in overcrowded and rundown classrooms. They also contend the state needs new and renovated K12 and higher education facilities to accommodate growing student enrollments predicted during the rest of this decade.

@csun | August 26, 2002 issue
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