World’s only college focusing on educating professionals in service dog industry adds recreation area and classroom space.
ROHNERT PARK – Bergin University of Canine Studies, a non-profit private college focused on educating trainers of service dogs, has moved from Santa Rosa to a new, larger facility in Rohnert Park.
At nearly 15,000 square feet, the former administrative building for the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District will allow the internationally renowned college to host a greater number of students and conduct many training and recreation activities for dogs on-site.
The facility is also familiar to the school’s president, Dr. Bonita Bergin. Founder of Bergin University and the pioneering service dog organization Canine Companions for Independence, Ms. Bergin said that she enlisted the help of students at the site in the early 1990s while it served as a continuation high school.
“It was like Déjà vu coming back here,” she said, noting that the modern service dog concept “was invented here in Rohnert Park.”
Bergin officials signed the three-and-a-half-year lease with the school district on Jan. 20, following a doubling of enrollment across its associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s programs last August. Delores “Dee Dee” Ford, director of student services, said that six years of expansion discussions were accelerated after Bergin’s administration identified the merits of the available building.
“We had to literally grab everything and move over here,” she said, describing how lease discussions ended in mid January and only weeks before the new semester. “But it was a great opportunity.”
The Cotati-Rohnert Park School District had relocated its administrative offices to a more central location on Burton Avenue last summer. Dr. Robert Haley, district superintendent, said that discussions of leasing the location to Bergin University began almost immediately and unfolded over the following three months.
“We immediately saw a win-win for Begin and the school district,” he said, including possible collaborations with the college in the future.
Today, all of Bergin’s classes are conducted at the new location. Staff are still transferring some items from the former site at 1215 Sebastopol Rd., and future options for the location include converting it to a facility dedicated to the school’s work with war veterans or simply selling the property.
While additional fencing and other minor work continues at the new location, Chief Academic Officer Paul Dunn pointed to a number of immediate improvements. Among them was an indoor training room quadruple the size at the Santa Rosa site, a cafeteria and a library that dwarfed the closet-like space at the former campus.
“These are things a school is supposed to have,” said Mr. Dunn with a laugh.
He also lauded the fact that the “almost rural” setting was approximately five minutes from Highway 101, making the school easy to access while providing ample space for recreation.
Formally designated as a university in 2004, Ms. Bergin said that Bergin University is the only college in the world focused exclusively on canine studies. That focus has brought a large number of international and out-of-state students to the school: in total, 16 students are currently enrolled in the associate’s degree program, eight are pursuing a bachelor’s degree and 14 are studying for a master’s.
The training that Bergin University prepares students to administer begins when dogs are three-and-a-half weeks old, culminating in a disciplined service animal that can respond to 106 different commands and help a disabled individual complete everyday tasks like retrieving food and operating light switches.
The current site has room for approximately 75 students and an accompanying dog, though the campus does away with the eight dorm rooms available at the former location.
While the long-term vision for the new campus includes the possibility of student housing, Ms. Bergin said that the university has begun exploring partnerships to help mitigate costs for students, some of whose programs are only in session for a few weeks each year. Already, Hampton Inn has agreed to provide a discounted rate to the school, she said.
Ultimately, Ms. Bergin said that she would like to see the new campus expand even further, with room for 1,000 students.
“We hope that our students are bringing business to Rohnert Park,” Ms. Bergin said.
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