As early as Dec. 2012, approximately 120 trees will be logged at Merrill College. The logging is part of the Merrill Residence Halls Capital Renewal Project, expansion plan which aims at improving building maintenance and accessability within the college.
The trees proposed for removal include mostly redwoods. The building construction at Merrill is expected to be carried out in two phases, once in the summer of 2013 and and again in 2014.
The project is part of a major renovation program being implemented at the campus’ 10 residential colleges, called the Draft Initial Study/Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration. In this program, every 10 years the residential colleges undergo maintenance, development and expansion to address various issues including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, security and even aesthetic issues. The program is prepared by the Office of Physical Planning and Construction of UCSC and spearheaded by Alisa Klaus, UCSC senior environmental planner.
In an effort to improve accessibility, the project requires the removal of most of the trees in the wooded area south of Tacos Moreno. The project would remove approximately 120 redwood trees, along with other species including a Douglas-fir, bigleaf maples, coast live oaks, a liquid amber and an ornamental tree of an unknown species.
“It is important to understand that the project has been developed in order to improve the overall student experience at the Merrill Residence Halls and the accompanying site,” said Sue Matthews, who is the associate vice chancellor for colleges, housing and educational services. “The buildings are nearly 45-years old, and are currently housing’s least appealing facilities due to their outdated design and need of capital renewal elements.”
The project includes two major components, one of which is the renovation of Merrill’s Resident Halls A, B, C and D, as well as the Guzman Suites apartments. The other component aims to improve the pedestrian circulation system and outdoor gathering spaces at Merrill College to meet accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to the project’s draft and initial study prepared by Klaus, the project aims to “provide accessible routes throughout the Merrill College center and between the buildings in the college center to the Crown College Dining Commons,” as well as improve “community spaces and enhanced visual and physical connectivity within the college.”
Another component of the project is to “enhance the outdoor spaces within the college center,” according to the draft and initial study. While the trees will be removed primarily to meet accessibility requirements, “increased sunlight and visual access” is considered a secondary benefit.
Because the project plans to remove a substantial number of trees within Merrill College, this will significantly alter the visual character of the college. The project’s draft study states that “the project retains aesthetically valuable trees to the extent feasible while still accomplishing the goal of providing accessibility.”
Steve Houser, the director of capital planning for colleges, housing and educational services (CHES) spoke to potential student concern about the project’s effect of the visual character of the campus.
“Students, employees and/or visitors who walk through Merrill College after the project will still conclude that the college, like the rest of the campus, is developed with a real sensitivity toward the trees,” Houser said.
While the proposed project was initially presented to the Merrill Student Senate on May 10, Matthews said the project is still unknown to many students.
Despite the project being currently under review, it is important for students to engage in the process said Jodi Frediani, forestry consultant and director of Central Coast Forest Watch.
“I’m a strong believer in transparency and the public process. I believe that students have a right to know and that students should have a right to submit comments if they’re concerned — use the process as appropriate,” Frediani said. “The university is an educational institution and part of the process is the opportunity for the public to participate.”
Merrill Students can convey comments and opinions by contacting CAO Alex Belisario (firstname.lastname@example.org). Other students may contact Sue Matthews (email@example.com).
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