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Guns Into Textbooks _ University Opens On Old California Military Base

August 28, 1995

SEASIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Students with bicycles and books have replaced soldiers with jeeps and guns at what used to be Fort Ord.

In a base-conversion success story, California State University-Monterey Bay held its first classes Monday in renovated classrooms atop seaside dunes that used to be home to a major military base.

``I just want to be a part of this,″ said junior Cynthia Wyer. ``We’re helping the community and we’re helping ourselves.″

Wyer was one of 250 juniors and seniors who underwent orientation on Monday; 350 freshmen and sophomores attended last week. Some classes met Monday, but most start on Wednesday.

The university _ which emphasizes environmental and marine studies _ has become a symbol of how to turn misfortune into opportunity as the nation converts military bases to peacetime uses. President Clinton will dedicate the school on Labor Day.

``I think we have a story to tell in being helpful to hundreds of communities that now have to deal with conversion,″ said university president Peter Smith. ``It is not a simple matter ... for communities scared about their future.″

Fort Ord, about 90 miles south of San Francisco, was an Army base from 1917 until it closed last fall. Once home to the 7th Light Infantry Division, it was targeted for closure in a 1991 round of Pentagon budget cuts.

Cities that depended economically on the bases feared they would wither from lack of revenue. Fort Ord contributed at least $500 million a year and more than 20,000 jobs on the Monterey Peninsula.

But the California State University system, facing a huge influx of students and looking for a home for a new campus, jumped at the base’s housing, office and recreation buildings. The location on Monterey Bay made it an ideal spot for marine science.

One year ago, the federal government turned over 1,300 acres of the base _ valued at $1 billion _ to the state for the new university. Local residents and governments hope other educational and research institutions will follow CSU to Fort Ord.

On Monday, much of the new campus still resembled a deserted Army base. Many old buildings were boarded up, and neglected landscaping had a weedy, dusty look.

But classrooms and offices were ready in eight renovated buildings, and work continues on another dozen. That doesn’t include about 1,200 apartments built for military families that were in good condition and are now student housing.

``I’m here because it’s going to be a premier college,″ said Michael Kassing, a junior majoring in environmental science. ``This is an exciting place to be.″

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