After breaking ground in October 2020, construction is underway for the new UC Santa Barbara Classroom Building project, the first building solely dedicated to classroom space since 1967. Though some are excited about the new technologies it will provide, other students are dissatisfied with its placement and design.
Temporarily dubbed the “Classroom Building,” the new development includes five-tiered lecture halls, three active learning classrooms and 20 discussion classrooms, providing 2,000 new classroom seats for the campus community. The UC Regents approved the building in May 2019, and construction of the project ensued in October 2020. Currently, the university expects the project to be completed in Spring 2023.
According to Liana Khammash, project manager of the Classroom Building committee, the idea for the project was born four years ago out of a series of lunch meetings that Chancellor Henry T. Yang held with a group of faculty, including Khammash.
“These conversations, along with input from students, parents, faculty and staff, made it clear that the greatest need was state-of-the-art classroom space,” Khammash said.
The building is designed to facilitate the use of modern electronic and digital media to engage students with project-based learning.
According to Leesa Beck, director of Summer Sessions, each of the five lecture halls will feature work surfaces that are large enough to accommodate a laptop, as well as rotating “turn-to-team” seating so that students can form small groups for discussion. Project-based learning rooms are set up so that students can work together in groups of five or six, and active learning classrooms also feature flexible furniture that can be rearranged to accommodate different instructional formats.
“The building will increase the campus classroom seating capacity by 2,000 seats, or 35%, and will create an efficient, safe and sustainable facility that serves the needs of the campus functionally and programmatically,” Khammash said.
The new building will be located at the center of campus at the southern end of the University Library, north of the Psychology Building and west of the Science Walk.
However, many students themselves have mixed feelings about the construction of the new building due to its location, which will block the bike path near the Arbor, the Music Building and the library that connects students to many popular science buildings.
According to Joy Sanap, third-year mechanical engineering major and vice chair of the Associated Students Bike Committee, the building was originally designed with a bike path running between the new building and the library — though that is no longer the case.
The A.S. Bike Committee has advocated for sufficient bike infrastructure to support the new Classroom Building since 2018 when it was still in its early stages of planning. Though the group was successful in working with a project manager to increase the amount of bike parking near the building, they were ultimately unsuccessful at convincing the new building committee to include a bike path.
“Unfortunately, staff and faculty on the new Classroom Building planning committee unexpectedly made the decision to permanently remove the bike path during a single, last-minute meeting during the summer of 2019 when our student representative was away from campus and unable to participate,” Sanap said. “Both [our student representative] and the Bike Committee pushed back against the decision, but were told it was too late.”
According to Sanap, the building’s placement and size did not conflict with the location of the bike path.
“While rerouting bikes during the construction phase is unavoidable, permanently forcing bikes onto the narrow UCen Road with cars is both dangerous and unnecessary,” Sanap said.
Gabriel van Praag, 2021 UCSB graduate and former member of the A.S. Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), agreed with Sanap that the removal of the bike path could have been avoided.
“It is my understanding that the initial plan was to keep it, but for some reason, the building committee decided to remove it and go on with the current design of having bike traffic go around and through the road,” Pragg said. “EAB also had a representative on this committee, and their critiques on the design were largely ignored.”
On-Campus Senator and second-year pre-economics major Ethan Engler, though in support of the new building committee’s proposal, also acknowledged the need for student voices to be heard.
“While I’m glad to see UCSB providing more room and amenities for our students, I hope the committee will do their due diligence and set up alternative bike paths to make sure the transport network still works well for everyone,” Engler said.
On-Campus Senator and fourth-year religious studies and history double major Tyler Ferguson, however, believes that though there are some detriments, the project will ultimately serve the student population for a long time to come.
“Although [the removal of the bike path] is very frustrating, we will need to readjust and accept this change, because in regards to this project, the pros significantly outweigh the cons,” Ferguson said. “This new Classroom Building is desperately needed and will positively affect future UCSB students for decades to come.”
Sanap said that the Bike Committee will continue to advocate for a better resolution.
“Over the next year, we will work to collect student feedback to present a case to the university in favor of a better pathing alternative,” he said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Aug. 26, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.