[caption id="attachment_31854" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A site plan for the proposed campus housing (click for details)"][/caption]

NOVATO -- The Buck Institute for Age Research is planning to launch its own graduate degree program and is preparing to add more parking and on-site housing for employees and students.

This planning is commencing even as construction continues on a new research facility on the northwest Novato campus. The new facility is on track for March 2012 completion, according to the institution.

[caption id="attachment_31859" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Location of the proposed housing (click for details)"][/caption]

The institute has applied for stockpiling permits from the city of Novato for 97,500 cubic yards of dirt to be moved to add parking. The institution proposes to move that soil to a parcel of land where 130 residential units would be built.

The housing, 128 units of which would be classified affordable, are meant for both the institute's 190 employees as well as  students in a graduate program in the works.

"We have Dominican students and students from other institutions from around the world," said Mary McEachron, chief administrative officer. "We have been talking to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission, and we are in the planning stages of a much more intense program."

In 2008, San Rafael-based Dominican University of California and The Buck Institute started a research-intensive master’s in biological sciences degree program.

She said the accreditation process takes five years. Within that time, the institute wants to have the housing built.

On Wednesday, the city Design Review Commission is set to hold a workshop on both the stockpiling permit and a preliminary design for the future housing project. David Israel of BAR Architects in San Francisco will be making the presentation.

"We want to do this so we can get feedback from the city," said Ms. McEachron. "If Design Review says we don’t like the housing site with the pad, we will dispose of [the soil] on other sites on the property. On the other hand, it is part of our plan and we would like to move forward with that."

The institute wants feedback on the housing plan, such as how to cluster the buildings.

"We want do the site planning before anyone gets wedded to any specific housing design," Ms. McEachron said.

Within the month, she expects to have a contract for feasibility studies on the future project.

In 1995, Novato voters approved the Buck housing units as part of an initiative to annex 488 acres into Novato city limits.

"This has always been part of the Buck development here in Novato," said Louise Patterson, city community development director.

The city Design Review Commission workshop is set for April 6 at 7:30 p.m. in Novato City Hall.