ATEP submits concept of its Field of Dreams


MaryAnne Shults

Just as a multitude of crows return to the Saddleback College campus each evening at sunset, a similar occurrence is happening at the Advanced Technology and Education Park in Tustin. The campus, which appears almost deserted in daylight hours, becomes a bustle of activity as ATEP students descend on the small campus for their evening classes.

On Feb. 23, the SOCCCD trustees reviewed the revised Concept Plan which detailed the proposal for development of Phase 3A of the ATEP campus. The plan originally presented last spring was not focused on students, but more on the generation of revenue from commercial production companies using the facility.

Currently occupying only a one-acre parcel at the corner of Red Hill and Valencia Avenues in Tustin, the campus has more than 1,000 enrolled students. Student population has increased over 150 percent in only 18 months.

The campus is located on the former 1600-acre Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, which was closed in 1999. It is now referred to as the “Tustin Legacy,” of which the South Orange County Community College District was granted 68 acres by the City of Tustin to develop an education complex.

The plan now goes to the City of Tustin for their input, and then comes back to the board for approval at their March meeting. A concept plan is required by a conveyance agreement between the City of Tustin and the SOCCCD.

“This Concept Plan proposes development on approximately 29 acres of the ATEP site, with approximately 305,000 square feet of dedicated education and joint-use education facilities in two buildings,” according to SOCCCD Deputy Chancellor Gary Poertner in the official Notice of Public Hearing.

Funding options are also being reviewed.

“Several funding models are being reviewed by financial experts,” said Tere Fluegeman, director of public information and marketing for ATEP.

This new phase includes plans to build space dedicated to communication arts, nursing, and biotechnology, as well as additional general-use classrooms.

To benefit Saddleback’s nursing program, the plan includes construction of a regional simulation lab. Saddleback’s dean and nursing faculty are also working on curriculum development. This plan stems from the issue that there are not enough health care facilities to provide the required clinical training. Fluegeman said the lab is advantageous to the program because it allows students to spend up to 50 percent of their clinical time there, allowing the program to accept more students.

“A simulation center will provide maximum technology support,” said Tammy Rice, interim dean, health science at Saddleback. “It allows the program to maintain expansion of students’ enrollments as it provides for clinical simulated experiences when the hospitals are impacted with students.”

The communication arts building plans include working film, television and digital media studios of various sizes with sound stages, a mill shop, and an auditorium, as well as production and administrative offices. The plan is student-focused, although the community may have the opportunity to utilize the facility.

One of ATEP’s missions is to “support the improvement of the competitive position of individuals and of the region through a responsive workforce development.” This goal comes at a time when many are suffering financially from job layoffs, and have thus chosen to return to college to reinforce their skills or learn a more “recession-proof” career.

“Community colleges are a big part of the solution to this economic downturn,” George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, told “We are the institutions that are on the ground bringing these individuals into our institutions and preparing them for a new career.”

Towards that end, courses are offered through Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College in specialized subject areas such as architecture and drafting, design model making and prototyping, entrepreneurship, and lasers, as well as general education courses and certificate programs.

“We want to provide synergy,” Fluegeman said. “Things will happen to create programs that will meet a demand to support the Orange County economy.”

The goal is to begin construction in about 18 months, with doors opening for the 2012-2013 term.