MERCED — Students at the area's newest university got a sneak preview of the building where they'll attend classes when the next semester starts in January.
A two-hour open house Thursday at the Classroom Building on the University of California at Merced campus drew hundreds of visitors, including students, faculty and staff, many of whom had never even had hard-hat tours of the building before.
"It's gorgeous," said Angeline Velazquez, 18, of Delhi, as she checked out small classrooms on the second floor of the 90,000-square-foot building. "I love it."
Her twin, Claudia, agreed.
"It's exciting to see how everything is coming to be," she said.
Administrators wanted to give students a chance to see the new building before they leave for the holiday break next week. When the semester starts Jan. 17, many of the students who were used to classes in the library will have a new floor plan to learn.
The bottom floor contains classrooms and offices and the Lakireddy Auditorium, which the school will use for classes, seminars, workshops and performing arts events.
The library will still house classes, but most will move to the new building.
The Classroom Building adds a little more color to the campus. The main building is sandy yellow, and the auditorium, which seems to grow out of the eastern side, is terra cotta. There's a covered walkway around the front; the plan is to fill overhead trellises with greenery.
The auditorium, about the size of a large community theater, has room for an audience of more than 300.
Provost David Ashley said the auditorium is going to be one of the most important additions to the new campus, because it offers a way to interact with the community when events and performances are held there, and a chance to hold cultural and recreational offerings to enliven the campus.
He said that he's eager for the community to see the generosity of Merced cardiologist Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy and his family, who contributed $1 million for upgrades to the auditorium's interior and to purchase high-quality sound equipment.
Like the rest of the campus, the Classroom Building's interiors are Ikea-style — simple and functional, with blond wood accents. Some of the classrooms have semicircular worktable seating, with built-in flip-up panels that hold plugs for Internet and electrical access.
'It feels more like a real college'
There are spaces for larger classes, but many of the rooms on the second floor hold 20 to 30 students. The building has 92 faculty offices, 32 classrooms ranging in size from 24 to 80 seats, two 180-seat classrooms and one 120-seat classroom. Administrators say the building should accommodate everyone until 2009, when enrollment is projected to be 4,400.
"I can picture it now, full of students and faculty, and different lives going on," said campus communications director Patti Waid Istas, who got her first look inside the Classroom Building at Thursday's event.
Across Founders' Green — which is not yet green but will be planted with grass and about 200 Chinese elms and flowering plum trees by the time classes resume — the Science and Engineering Building still is undergoing major work. Its bottom floor will be open for lab classes Jan. 17, and the upper two floors should be open in early spring.
Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey said that she has been taking almost daily tours of the buildings, watching the progress. The Classroom Building, she said, is just what she expected, although "you never quite know how all the pieces will come together."
A new building, she said, is almost like the first day of classes all over again.
Students and other visitors had open access to almost every room in the Classroom Building on Thursday, and many of them took breaks from studying for finals to see where they'll be learning next year.
Although finishing work is still going on, it's easy to see how everything in the Classroom Building will look when completed.
"It's pretty cool. It's awesome," said student Brian Ware, 18, of San Diego. "It's less like some dorms and a library."
Some students, like John Mark Pendleton, 19, of Martinez, had their doubts the building would be ready, but now that it is, they say, they are relieved.
"It feels more like a real college," Pendleton said.
Bee staff writer Lorena Anderson can be reached at 667-1227 or email@example.com.