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Pepperdine University Breaks Ground on the Mountain at Mullin Park

Group holding shovels at groundbreaking ceremony

On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, the Pepperdine community gathered at Rho Parking Lot on the Malibu campus to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Mountain at Mullin Park, a state-of-the-art athletics, events, fitness, and wellness complex that will serve as a hub and gathering place for students. Strategically located on a plateau in the heart of student residential life, the Mountain will be framed by spectacular views of the Stotsenberg Track, the Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool, Alumni Park, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.

President Jim Gash speaking at the podium at the Mountain groundbreakingCalling it one of the biggest transformations on the Malibu campus since the 1970s, chancellor Sara Young Jackson (’74) opened the ceremony set against the backdrop of the construction site and shared the promise of the Mountain as a place that nurtures the development of students’ minds, bodies, and spirits and “builds a unique sense of community that makes this place unlike any university in the country.”

“While we excel in academics—and that’s our primary focus in this university setting—it’s important to remember that most of the time students spend on this campus is not in the classroom, lecture halls, or in labs,” said Jackson. “The Pepperdine experience involves celebrations big and small and regrouping from the challenges and setbacks that our students will inevitably face. These things can’t all happen in the classroom, but they will happen at the Mountain at Mullin Park.”

Lorenzo Romar, head coach of the Pepperdine men’s basketball team, led the attendees in prayer before introducing Phil Phillips (’88, JD ’92), executive vice president and chief operating officer. Phillips recalled his personal history at Pepperdine, which began at the age of five as the son of Ron Phillips, Dean Emeritus of the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law and senior vice chancellor, and the many significant milestones he witnessed throughout the University’s growth. 

“All of our campus developments have been important, but the Malibu campus groundbreaking and the Drescher Graduate Campus groundbreaking allowed us to make significant leaps forward,” said Phillips. “They were different from the rhythmic, incremental progress that we make otherwise, and I believe the Mountain is in that category of significant impact and magnitude.”

Phillips recognized president Jim Gash’s (JD ’93) unrelenting belief in the development of the Mountain and his vision and commitment to move the project forward. “God moved through President Gash to make this happen,” he said, “and I believe God is guiding [the project] now. Because he ordained this, it’s not surprising he has assembled and equipped this team to execute this incredible project.” Phillips then recognized the tireless work of Ben Veenendaal (’02), associate vice president for Planning, Operations, and Construction; the architects at the global architecture and design firm Perkins&Will; and the team at Clark Construction, one of the largest building and infrastructure companies in the United States, for their partnership on the Mountain project. 

Pepperdine Board of Regents chair Dee Anna Smith at the podiumDee Anna Smith (’86), chair of the Pepperdine Board of Regents, recalled her time as a student at Seaver College, how her Pepperdine experience deepened her faith, and how the University’s faith foundation will fortify the Mountain to impact the lives of students for generations to come.

“We don’t dream big just for the sake of something big and shiny,” she said. “There are a lot of things we can do with our resources, but our motivations are different, and they run much deeper. The deep values and motivations of Pepperdine are centered on the word and the ways of Jesus Christ and the infinite dignity of our students as image-bearers of our awesome God. The Mountain is about building a community of belonging where faith will thrive.”

Seaver College junior Michael Sugimoto, student body president of the Student Government Association, shared with attendees the role the Mountain will play in deeply changing the Pepperdine student experience forever. “Being a Pepperdine student doesn’t stay within the walls of the classroom,” he said. “Many students experience loneliness and mental health struggles every day. The Mountain will play an important role in shaping the community dynamic at Pepperdine. I see the Mountain as a beacon to develop a more tightly knit community that will bring people together.”

Before inviting Smith, Phillips, Veenendaal, Jackson, vice president for strategic initiatives Tim Perrin, and chief financial officer Greg Ramirez (’03) to take shovels and wear hard hats to enter the construction site for the ceremonial first dig, President Gash shared with attendees the origins of the Mountain initiative and the tremendous efforts of University leadership and the Board of Regents in making the project a reality.

President Jim Gash in bulldozer at the Mountain groundbreaking“We dreamed of not just an athletic competing facility,” Gash said. “We dreamed of a village where students would gather and interact. Not so we could have better basketball and volleyball teams, but because it would make a better community, a tighter community, where students do life together.” 

Gash then remarked on the legacy of founder George Pepperdine and his enduring vision that continues to shape the University experience more than eight decades later.

“I wonder what he would have said,” proposed Gash. “Would he have said he couldn’t possibly imagine something like [the Mountain]? He would have simply nodded and said, ‘God can do what he will do if we trust in him and be responsive to his calling.’ George Pepperdine wanted this place to be a reflection of the endless promises of God, and this place can only be described as that. He wanted this to be a place for belonging. He wanted this university to mirror and reflect his faith. And there isn’t a single person here who has any desire to do anything other than continue George Pepperdine’s legacy and vision.” 

Construction of the Mountain at Mullin Park is expected to be completed in fall 2026. Extensive work on the facility’s parking structure began in spring 2023 with an expected completion timeline of fall 2024. Further construction on other Mountain facilities is expected to begin in spring 2024.