Plans are underway to institute a sweeping redesign of two of UCSB’s most frequented areas, and input from students, local professionals, and University administrators is the driving force behind the modernization.

UCSB Campus Planning and Design hosted two days of meetings last week to devise plans for an update of the plaza area between Davidson Library and Girvetz Hall, to begin in 2008. Representatives from campus departments, students, landscapers and architects attended the conferences – known as “charettes” in the design community – to discuss issues like safety, bicycle access, increased seating and lighting and student interaction with the space. An expansion of Davidson Library is also in the works, scheduled to commence after the plaza’s redesign has begun.

Campus Planning and Design’s Senior Planner Dennis Whelan, who organized the charettes, said the need for the renovation of underground utilities throughout the area provided the opportunity for a more expansive redesign of both spaces.

“The storm drain, water and electrical lines need to be torn up,” Whelan said. “We’re going to put them back in a better place.”

According to Marc Fisher, associate vice chancellor for Campus Design and Facilities, funding for both projects will be coming from many sources.

“The bond issue [Prop 1D on today’s ballot] has planning and design, infrastructure and construction dollars,” Fisher said. “There are student gift opportunities, and donor gift [opportunities]. There’s also the library expansion money and the infrastructure dollars.”

The workshops’ attendees expressed their concerns and ideas on a number of issues concerning the Library Plaza area. Many agreed that one of the spot’s most essential needs is the addition of seating for restaurant patrons and Arbor customers. There was also a general concurrence at the workshops that more lighting is necessary in the area to improve safety for those who use it after dark.

“The area needs to be well lit so people feel safe when they walk,” UCSB Police Dept. Captain Mike Foster said.

Another safety issue raised at the charettes was the proximity of the Pardall Bike path to the plaza. According to participants, the portion of the path closest to the library’s parking lot is currently a threat to pedestrians attempting to cross into the area.

Jean Gath of Pfeiffer Pfeiffer Partners Inc., whose firm is set to renovate the library, said a remedy to this problem could be constructing a pedestrian overpass that would be about four feet above ground level and lowering the bicycle path by a few feet.

Gath also said there are definite plans to reduce the amount of concrete in the area and replace it with grass.

“We want to change the color and texture of the pavement,” Gath said. “We want to have more green space, more soft space.”

One issue that divided the group was a participant’s proposal to use the area as a free-speech forum by adding a stage to the base of the library steps. This idea met some opposition at the meetings because of the noise associated with such activities.

Associate Dean of Students Carolyn Buford said such a stage would exacerbate the current conflict between the social nature of the area and the need for quiet in nearby classrooms.

Fisher said expansion of the Davidson Library, which was also discussed at the charettes, will begin in 2009. Participants listened to ideas from the project’s organizers, and expressed both positive and negative feelings about the redesign and updating.

Mark Nocciolo, principal educational facilities planner of the Office of Budget and Planning , said the building’s existing problems – particularly the sunken pits at the library’s entrance – need improvement.

“We need to fix the pitfalls, literally the pitfalls, of the entryway,” Nocciolo said.

Gath said attendees were particularly supportive of a proposal to construct an outdoor patio area adjacent to the library, complete with wireless Internet access.

“We’re thinking of an old-fashioned reading room outside with lights and outlets and maybe some heating lamps,” Gath said. “People could see the warm glow coming from it.”

Gath said the charettes were an important part of the design process for both areas of campus because it is essential to create a specific plan for the area before the construction begins.

“We need to think now about how to use [the space],” Gath said. “You don’t build a building and then think, ‘Hmm… what are we going to put in here?'”