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Drexel considers campus in California

PHILADELPHIA --Drexel University's ambitious growth plans have extended across the country to the West Coast, where the school is considering establishing a California campus.

School president Constantine Papadakis said Monday that he recently took aerial and ground tours of a possible site near Sacramento, where a developer has proposed donating land for the project.

"We also are eager to get things rolling," said Papadakis. "We'd like to get out there ... as early as possible."

The proposed campus would be just outside Roseville, Calif., about 2,400 miles west of Drexel's home in Philadelphia. If the project becomes a reality, Drexel would join Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School on a list of colleges with a bi-coastal presence.

Last Thursday, Papadakis gave a presentation to civic and political leaders in Placer County, Calif., that impressed Supervisor F.C. "Rocky" Rockholm.

"I was very impressed with not only him but with Drexel University as a whole," Rockholm said Monday. "I think Drexel would be a huge plus for us here in this region."

Talk of establishing a college in Placer County began around 2001, when developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and his partners offered to donate 1,100 acres for a school. The group was looking to fill an educational gap in the area, said Julie Hanson of KT Communities, which is managing the proposal.

"There is no full-service private university in the Sacramento area," Hanson said. "They're very excited about bringing more higher education opportunities to the region."

Since then, a regional committee of education, civic and business leaders has been trying to bring in a university. An initial plan by the Roman Catholic Christian Brothers order to establish De La Salle University on the site never materialized, Rockholm said.

But things could go better for Drexel, where Papadakis is known as a gregarious, driven leader with a big vision. Since becoming president in 1995, the university has increased its endowment and enrollment, acquired a medical school and opened a law school.

Branching out to California would help Drexel in its quest for more national recognition, said Papadakis. And a campus in Placer County would draw from the fast-growing Sacramento area of about 2 million residents, he said.

Papadakis envisions a 6,000-student campus, possibly emphasizing business administration and nursing.

If the plan succeeds, Papadakis said the new university would be built on about 600 acres of the donated land, while the other 500 would be sold to help finance its construction.

The land sale could generate around $100 million, he said, but building a campus would require much more money. Papadakis did not have a total price tag but said he is confident the school could raise the money.

"There aren't too many cases where an individual says, 'OK, I'll give you 600 acres, and on top of it $100 million or more to build a campus,'" Papadakis said. "We are delighted that we will have this opportunity."

Any plan must be approved by the Placer County Board of Supervisors and the university's board of trustees. Papadakis plans to go to the Drexel board in October with a project design.

This fall in Philadelphia, Drexel plans to begin construction on three campus buildings as part of its multiyear, $600 million master plan.

Drexel, with about 13,000 full-time undergraduates, was founded in 1891 as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry by Philadelphia financier and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel.