Campus plans new University House and Event Center

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For decades, the University House was a hub of activity for many campus celebrations, including scholarship receptions for students, receptions for student veterans, the Chancellor's Diversity Awards, the Excellence in Teaching Awards, and much more.
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Students have often said that they felt particularly honored and recognized when attending an event at the University House—similiar to the experience of being invited to the campus home of a college provost.

In an effort to provide UC Santa Cruz with a venue to celebrate student success, honor academic and research excellence, and increase fundraising, the campus is planning to replace University House with a new facility.

The campus will bring a discussion item about the plans and approach for University House and Event Center to UC Board of Regents at the March meeting.

For decades, University House was a hub of activity for many campus celebrations, including scholarship receptions for students, receptions for student veterans, the Chancellor’s Diversity Awards, the Excellence in Teaching Awards, and much more. On average, there were about 60 events every year with a total of 1,500 guests.

“The importance of University House was clear to me well before my days as chancellor,” Chancellor George Blumenthal said. “For students, staff, and faculty, attending an event at U House was always so memorable. It felt almost like being invited to the university’s living room—a comfortable and personal space for special friends and for the campus family.”

Students have often said that they felt particularly honored and recognized when attending an event at the University House—similiar to the experience of being invited to the campus home of a college provost. 

University House has also served as the residence for UC Santa Cruz chancellors. UC Regents policy requires that chancellors and the UC president live in university-provided housing, given that they are responsible for “extending official hospitality to important visitors and guests in conjunction with official functions.”

The facility, built in 1967, was closed in 2015 due to structural and life/safety code deficiencies. In a seismic safety review, the facility received a poor rating which implies a “severe” risk to life and safety. Additional studies have revealed additional structural problems—such as dry rot—as well as accessibility and other building code deficiencies.

A campus planning committee charged with developing plans for the shuttered facility evaluated six different options, ranging from finding an off-campus house to renovation to replacement. The committee recommended the campus replace the existing facility as the best long-term option for meeting campus needs.

The path forward

The campus will discuss the project with the UC Board of Regents next month and plans to request budget approval for the project at May meeting. As planned, the project would go out to bid in summer 2019 and be completed in winter 2022.

The campus currently envisions the project as a single-story structure of no more than 9,000 square feet. One of the primary goals with the new facility is to better meet the campus needs.

In addition to the seismic and code deficiencies, the building wasn’t designed to have public and private areas, creating programmatic problems, as well. The existing University House was split into a private and public portion in the mid–1980s with one bedroom being converted into an additional kitchen for the public area. The event spaces also made small and large gatherings difficult. The challenges also restricted the size and type of events that could be held there.

The new facility will be about a third larger, with about 60 percent of the total square footage dedicated for public-facing events. The balance would serve as a residence for the campus’s next chancellor, who is expected to be announced in May.

The public area will likely feature small, medium, and large event rooms, a catering kitchen, gender-inclusive restrooms, and more. The residential portion will likely include three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, and a guest suite for visitors.

In the interim, the campus is planning to rent a house in the Santa Cruz area to serve as a residence for the new chancellor, until the new University House and Event Center opens. (Chancellor Blumenthal has been living in a private residence and unable to use University House since it was closed).

The project is projected to cost no more than $10 million, and the UC Office of the President has indicated a willingness to pay for up to half the project’s cost. UC Santa Cruz will fund its share of the project through an internal loan that will be paid back over roughly two decades. No state dollars or tuition dollars will go toward the project.

Supporting fundraising

University House and Event Center will be important in helping to further campus fundraising efforts. UC Santa Cruz concluded its first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign in summer 2017, raising more than $335 million from more than 63,064 donors. Highlights of the campaign included a gift to rebuild the historic Hay Barn, renovating the Quarry Amphitheatre, the naming of Rachel Carson College, and the addition of 16 new faculty chairs—nearly doubling the campus total.

External support remains a critical source of funding for universities across the nation, and UC Santa Cruz continues to focus on building support for the student experience, faculty research, and key initiatives.

“Generous donors have helped transform this campus and philanthropy will continue to be vital in the years to come,” Chancellor Blumenthal said. ”It’s been disappointing to be without University House for the past several years. I’m appreciative of UCOP’s support and look forward to helping the campus restore an crucial venue."