By Rosie Spinks

Just in time for spring, the cherry blossom trees in front of McHenry Library are in full bloom behind the imposing new sign: “No Access.”

Over spring break, the ongoing McHenry Library renovation project progressed considerably. The new addition has officially opened and the majority of library materials and collections are now in place. However, due to the construction, the north entrance is now completely inaccessible and a main artery of campus foot traffic has been cut off.

As these changes take place, some on campus worry that just as animals begin to emerge for the arrival of spring, the campus has become less accommodating of our fellow species.

According to the McHenry Library Addition and Renovation Project website, the project has two phases. Phase I, which began in the fall of 2005, has just been completed with the opening of the new addition.

Phase II is currently underway, according to Eric Baker, head of library operations.

“It will be an extensive renovation that will include seismic upgrading and many other improvements,” Baker said.

Baker also noted that the project is somewhat behind schedule. Phase I was supposed to be completed in December 2007, and Phase II is expected to take up to two years.

However, Baker looks to the completion of the project with optimism.

“It will be very exciting when the renovation and addition are married into a seamless, larger building,” Baker said.

Still, some have raised questions about the extent of the environmental impact this project will have. Christopher Wilmers, an assistant professor in the environmental studies department, stressed considering the impact of human activity on animals.

“Human disturbance to the environment is going to benefit certain species and harm others,” said Wilmers, who is also a wildlife biologist and ecologist. “The question is, what’s the scale of this activity?”

The duration of the project will factor into determining its overall environmental impact. Bret Caton, from the UC Santa Cruz Office of Physical Planning and Construction, noted the importance of preventing the project from being too lengthy.

“We always want to keep the project duration as short as possible to minimize both cost and impact to the campus,” Caton said.

While five years is not brief, a project of this size is bound to be both time-consuming and costly, Caton said. He noted, however, that there are no further alterations of fencing, roads or pathways anticipated for the remainder of the project.

As the McHenry construction continues, students might find it hard to ignore the increased fencing and barricades that have accompanied the arrival of spring, when many animals are propagating and young wildlife is abundant.

Wilmers spoke of the effect that human disturbances can have at this time of year.

“The impact is always largest when newborns are around because they are in the most vulnerable life stage,” he said.

In addition to newborns, nesting birds are particularly vulnerable during this season, especially when trees are being cut down. Caton said that the issue was being addressed.

“A survey for nesting birds was completed before tree removal and construction start,” he said. Other species considered or surveyed before the start of construction included wood rats and red-legged frogs.

While students may find the project inconvenient and many are worried by the construction’s possible damaging effects, Wilmers offered an alternate perspective.

“Keeping students out,” Wilmers said, “might even be good for some species.”