UC Santa Barbara Progresses on Development Plans to Expand Student Housing

A high-resolution rendered site plan for the San Benito student residential community [Photo Credit © SOM | Mithun]

By Shelly Leachman, UCSB

With a goal to expand residential housing for students, UC Santa Barbara continues to advance on a development plan that will create 3,500 new student beds on the main campus, in accordance with the targets highlighted in the university’s 2010 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).

The first phase of the two-part project includes 2,250 new student beds and is expected to be ready for occupancy by the fall of 2027; an additional 1,250 beds are projected to be completed by 2029.

The university on July 21, 2023 issued a request for qualifications to architectural firms to expand student residential housing options on campus. On Oct. 25, it announced the selection of two renowned architectural firms — Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) of Los Angeles, in association with Mithun of Seattle — to oversee the design and construction process for housing on the campus sites identified in the LRDP. The new residences will include dining facilities and common area amenities, and will incorporate pedestrian and vehicular circulation.

At that same time, Chancellor Henry Yang, in consultation with the Academic Senate, appointed a committee consisting of faculty members, housing and dining staff, and administrators to oversee the planning phase of the project. The Student Housing Project Building Committee is helping to guide the work of the architects and will ensure that all objectives are met and that the project remains on budget and on time.

“We’re off and running and we’re moving as fast as we can,” said committee co-chair Willie Brown, associate vice chancellor of housing, dining and auxiliary enterprises. “We’ve gotten substantial input from the building committee, which is representative of faculty, staff and students, and we have been proactively going out directly to students and asking what they do and don’t like about residence hall and apartment life, so we can design into the new facilities the things they’d like to see in their residential communities. The design charettes that the architectural teams have conducted with our student stakeholders have produced valuable information that has been incorporated into the initial project work.”

The first phase of the project, San Benito, is a student community to be built on a roughly 5-acre site between Mesa Road and Stadium Road, the former location of UCSB’s Facilities Management division and Transportation and Parking Services. (Those departments have recently vacated to an off-campus location.)

Preliminary conceptual drawings for San Benito serve to illustrate the location’s potential: multistory buildings, with mountain views from one side and a sightline to the ocean on the other, connected by a central promenade and plaza. Envisioned as mostly four-bedroom apartments with a mix of some doubles and singles, San Benito also will feature amenities such as a market and café, study and game rooms, recreational spaces and both bike and pedestrian pathways connecting the site to the campus as a whole.

“Part of the concept is to try to impact Mesa Road as little as possible, because that is a strong vehicular thoroughfare on campus,” noted Julie Hendricks, campus architect and a member of the project committee. “So the project primary entrance will look toward the south and southeast, and bring folks through the activity, recreation and athletics areas and try to connect strongly with the circulatory paths in that part of campus, while still taking advantage of the beautiful mountain views to the north. It will bring an incredibly dynamic and symbiotic relationship, and a lot more energy, to that part of campus.”

Helping to significantly accelerate the planning process, extensive significant site investigation and preparation have been conducted at and around the San Benito location over the last few years, including mapping environmentally sensitive habitat areas and buffer zones, conducting cultural resource investigations, analyses of circulation (bike lanes, traffic) and geotechnical studies (soil and seismic). Buffer zones and environmentally sensitive habitat areas were previously, and carefully, mapped out.

Conversations with key stakeholders in the project — first and foremost students, as well as housing and dining teams, other staff, administration and faculty — are underway and will be ongoing. Once the initial planning and design phase is finished, the campus will seek project approval by the UC Board of Regents in May 2024 to expedite the final design and construction phase.

Planning and design for phase two of the project — a student residence hall on the southeast end of campus — is expected to begin later this year.

The new housing project, said committee co-chair Gene Lucas, “will ensure the campus meets its long-term housing goals, and it will enhance the quality of academic excellence and student life. We are being very intentional about getting input from the students who are going to live there so we can design into the facilities what they would really like to see in terms of living accommodations.

“The university is committed to addressing the housing needs of our students in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner.”

This academic year the campus offered housing contracts to everyone on its application list, and new students recently moved into housing for winter quarter. Currently the university has 256 available beds in undergraduate residence halls, 94 open beds in undergraduate apartments and 18 in San Clemente graduate housing. There also are community housing vacancies in Goleta, Santa Barbara and Isla Vista.


Written by UCSBTheCurrent

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  1. So there are currently 368 available beds and the university says there are additional units in the community to accommodate students yet the SBC Housing Element says crowded student housing contributes to our high RHNA? Plus Nearly 3000 units are in the works at UCSB., and actually farther along than any project proposed for the rezoned parcels listed in the HEU. Unfortunately there is no property tax to gain from that housing. So while it could easily be counted toward our inflated state mandated number, the County will continue to push for thousands of new high density units to be built in the Eastern Goleta Valley.

  2. “This academic year the campus offered housing contracts to everyone on its application list, and new students recently moved into housing for winter quarter. Currently the university has 256 available beds in undergraduate residence halls, 94 open beds in undergraduate apartments and 18 in San Clemente graduate housing.”

    How did they manage this?!

    I’m glad to see this construction. It should’ve been done 15 years ago!

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