New university at Millerton Lake detailed

July 9, 2013

Published: July 1, 2013

By Kurtis Alexander — The Fresno Bee

Fresno developer Granville Homes has offered the first detailed account of its planned private university at Millerton Lake, submitting a permit request that proposes a slightly larger-than-anticipated 179-acre campus with five health-science colleges, including a medical school.

The nearly 100-page application, filed with the Fresno County planning department, is the first official step to a possible 2016 opening of the campus.

The planned California Health Science University is seeking to fill a void of health care workers in the Valley, a region that has historically struggled to recruit medical professionals and where many residents are at high risk of having major health issues.

Granville plans to launch the first of its five health-science colleges — a doctor of pharmacy program — in Clovis next year. Once the campus at Millerton is built, the pharmacy school will relocate to the foothills and be the first of the proposed schools to open at the new site, roughly 10 miles north of Fresno.

“It’s just going to be an amazing place for students in the Valley and really from all over the world,” said Richele Kleiser, communications director for the university. “The lake, the foothills, the oak trees: All of the natural elements out there are going to be preserved and incorporated into that campus. It will really be something to see, just gorgeous.”

The university application calls for five primary academic buildings, most three-stories tall with at least 80,000 square feet, configured around a central plaza with a nearby lecture hall, gym complex and dining area.

The planned College of Pharmacy, according to the application, will be followed by a College of Allied Health (to train physician assistants and nurse practitioners), a College of Optometry, a College of Dentistry and a College of Medicine. The schools will be rolled out intermittently over 15 to 20 years.

The campus will ultimately approach 2,000 students and nearly 300 faculty and staff, plus additional grounds-keeping and maintenance workers, according to the application.

On-campus housing will accommodate up to half of the student body.

Fresno County planning officials have not yet reviewed the university application, which was submitted last week. But planners said that projects of this magnitude can take a year or longer to get through the planning process, particularly if there are concerns.

Already some have said that the university is a good idea but is proposed for the wrong place.

Environmental groups have labeled the project, and the nearby build-out that’s expected in the rural Millerton Lake area, as sprawl.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s office has said the venture could derail the city’s efforts to steer new growth into its blighted downtown.

While the Swearengin administration has hinted at a challenge, spokesman Michael Lukens said Monday that city officials look forward to “working with county staff as they process the environmental review.”

Jeff Roberts, with Granville Homes, doesn’t expect too many obstacles for the university plan.

The Millerton Lake area is administered by the county, and already county planning documents anticipate significant growth in the region. The Board of Supervisors is also supportive.

“I think this project is the right project at the right time,” said county Supervisor Henry Perea, who has championed the Millerton campus. “There’s no question that the Valley has a great need for a medical school to train doctors to work in the Valley.”

Granville Homes must obtain not only a permit to move forward with its university, but win changes to current county codes that call for residential and commercial development near the lake — not an educational campus.

The campus would be less intrusive than homes and businesses, Granville officials say, making accommodations for the university a reasonable change.

Granville owns or has option to buy about 540 acres near the lake. What isn’t used for the university will go primarily to residential development, Granville officials say.

Public meetings to discuss the university and how the required environmental impact report should be done are expected to be scheduled soon.

The university’s first college is being funded by the Assemi family, which runs Granville Homes, to the tune of $20 million. Granville officials have not publicly identified the financing for the remainder of the project.