This academic year, UC Santa Cruz will have two construction projects on campus — the continued construction of Kresge College, along with the planned renovation of the Rachel Carson-Oakes Dining Hall. But the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires affecting air quality in Santa Cruz county have caused campus administrators to make changes to their previous plans. 

The Kresge Renewal project budget is about $205 million, spread between two phases. Currently, phase one focuses on the construction of three new residential buildings and one academic building. Phase two will renovate the remaining buildings. 

In order to maintain social distancing among tradespeople who would typically work at the same time, the project has staggered electricians, plumbers, and other workers. 

“All those practices have to be stretched out a little bit, and so the construction duration becomes longer, and that has an impact on how the pricing is,” said Steve Houser, Director of College, Housing, and Education Services Capitol Planning & Construction. “So it is translating to a higher cost.”

Houser also said poor air quality from wildfire smoke has delayed the project by a few weeks. A state of California regulation, “Protection from Wildfire Smoke,” suggests changes to work procedures and schedules when the Air Quality Index reaches 151, the threshold for “unhealthy.”

These delays have increased phase one expenses. To avoid going over budget, funds originally allocated for phase two are being reallocated to complete phase one, and phase two will be lessened in scope, meaning that fewer of the remaining buildings will be renovated.  Although phase one’s completion has been pushed back by nine to twelve months, the overall project is still projected to be completed by August 2023. 

Kresge College has been mostly untouched since its original construction in 1971. However, facing growing enrollment and outdated buildings, the university has taken on construction projects to address these concerns. 

“The lifespan of Kresge College buildings was about 40 years, and now it’s past 50 years,” said Michael Yamauchi-Gleason, the Senior Director of College Student Life for Porter-Kresge. “So Kresge was due for a major renovation.”

Previously, Kresge housed all residents in apartments, making it unique from all other colleges at UC Santa Cruz. 

“It was a little weird for me to know that they were going to be dorms and not apartments, living in an apartment freshman year is something that’s very ‘Kresge,’” said Anna Romstad, Kresge Parliament Chair. 

By building a standard residence hall, Kresge is able to bring in more affiliates and create more bedspace. Kresge College previously had the smallest number of spaces for student housing, with only 368 beds. Once the project is completed, Kresge plans to have between 550 and 575 beds available. 

Similarly, the Rachel Carson-Oakes Dining Hall will begin renovations in order to better accommodate the growing campus population. 

“[The Rachel Carson-Oakes] Dining Hall is the oldest of all of the dining halls on campus with respect to that all the others have undergone some renovation since they were originally constructed,” said Houser. “That dining hall was built in 1990, and was built for a campus population that has almost doubled. It’s hard to get enough food production out so that people can get their food quickly and enjoy themselves.” 

Despite current setbacks, both projects are set to be completed by their projected dates. Both phases of the Kresge College renovation are anticipated to be finished by Fall 2023, and the remodeled Rachel Carson-Oakes Dining Hall will be ready for students by Fall 2022.