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CSUB History

From Beet Fields to a University

It is not too hard to imagine what CSU Bakersfield looked like in its early days – much of the campus is still surrounded by undeveloped land covered in brush. But Ken Secor remembers when the entire space was an agricultural field. “Imagine 375 acres of sugar beets with one dying cottonwood tree out where FACT is. That was the campus when I first saw it in 1967,” he said. 

As Vice President for Administrative Services until his retirement in 1995, Secor helped design the first complex that included the Classroom Building, Lecture Building, Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Faculty Towers, Student Services and Library (now Administration) and Administration (now University Advancement). 

It was a race to build those first 94,000 square feet. When Secor and the first president, Paul Romberg, arrived in Bakersfield in August 1967, all they had was a document from the Chancellor’s Office saying they were authorized to start a university. They had to locate office space, equipment and staff. They operated out of an old grocery store on Kentucky Street in Old Town Kern, then relocated to state-leased offices on California Avenue before moving onto campus in 1970.

Kern County Land Company had donated the 375-acre parcel of land along Stockdale Highway to the state of California for the purpose of building a university campus. The Board of Trustees approved the physical plans in spring of 1969, leaving just a year and a half for the first phase to be built in time to open for instruction in fall 1970.

“Romberg wanted to get started as soon as possible,” Secor said. “When we came, the Chancellor’s Office thought we’d open in 1971 or ’72. But Romberg and I talked – could we possibly open in 1970? I was 34 years old and had never done anything like this before. So I told Romberg, ‘Sure, we can do that.’ It was a miracle. But we opened in 1970.”

The University Expands

Since that time, CSUB has filled half of the 375 acres, adding facilities to accommodate academic programs, student life, and the greater community. Residence halls and Science I opened in 1972, followed by the Romberg Nursing Center in 1973. The center was the first university building in California built without state funds, utilizing a grant from the U.S. Health, Education and Welfare Department, as well as local funding from Tenneco, the Ararkelian Foundation, and The Mrs. Charles Doré Fund.

Many other buildings have been funded by donations, including the Doré Theatre, Todd Madigan Gallery, and the Icardo Center. Originally named the CSUB Activities Center, the building was dedicated in honor of the longtime Roadrunner boosters Jimmie and Marjorie Icardo, who donated more than $2.5 million to support CSUB athletics.

Between 1994 and 1995, the Walter Stiern Library and the Student Union opened, offering students a state-of-the-art research and media center, as well as a social center for student life. The 2000s saw the addition of the Business Development Center and Science III, which greatly enhanced the student academic experience.

Additionally, after operating classes for five years through Extended University at Antelope Valley College, CSUB opened an off-campus center in 2000 in Lancaster. In 2004, the city of Lancaster opened the Lancaster University Center as an additional site for instruction for CSUB-AV, and an associate vice president was hired to oversee operations. This year, the campus served more than 600 students. (The main Bakersfield campus serves about 7,500 students.)

More recently, CSUB completed construction of the university’s crown jewel: a state-of-the-art, 75,000 square foot student recreation center that opened in 2009. The university’s athletic programs also moved to NCAA Division I starting in the 2010-11 school year. 

All the while, CSUB has shared its grounds with the local community for such activities as the Bakersfield Business Conference, AYSO soccer fields, Southwest Little League fields, and many outdoor concerts and festivals at the Amphitheater. 

Coming Soon

What does CSUB have planned next? By Fall 2015, the university plans to open the first phase of new residence halls on the northeast corner of campus to serve the demands of students wanting to live on campus. The new residence halls will house 500 students, a significant increase to the 340 spaces currently available.

Additionally, the university has entered into a public-private partnership with Gregory D. Bynum & Associates to build professional office space on the south side of campus. Tenants will be required to have affiliation with the campus, such as providing internships to students. 

Lastly, an Art Center has been approved for the northwest corner of campus, which will replace the small and outdated fine arts facility built as part of the original complex. The project will also include a satellite central plant to expand the campus’s heating and air conditioning capacity, as well as a new sewer tie-in so the campus can handle continued expansion.

There are plans to fill in the rest of the undeveloped land at some point as well, including a humanities complex, more student housing, and additional public-private partnerships, such as a children’s educational museum and a hotel and conference center.

“Our latest master plan builds out the entire campus to accommodate 18,000 students,” said Pat Jacobs, the Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management. “So there is a great deal of growth potential for this campus.”