Mesa Court Complex on the Rise

Courtesy of UCI Housing

Courtesy of UCI Housing

With the completion of the summer demolition of the former Mesa Court dining hall, workers at Mesa have begun their work to create a new housing and dining complex that is set to forever change the face and style of campus housing at UCI.

Building of this new complex will take place throughout the year as the firms assigned to the project work to build up the next expansion to house future Mesa Court residents. When it is completed, the complex will significantly expand the maximum capacity for the housing community from 1,947 to 2,697 first-year students.

“It will be the first mid-rise housing that we have, Mesa Court was the first housing complex built at UCI, so for us to be able to be the keeper of that tradition to be the first, you know mid-rise building I think is exciting for folks to be a part of it,” said Mesa Court Housing director, Luo Gill.

The former site of the Mesa Court commons will be the site of continuous construction for the next two years until the planned complex is complete. The new complex will have three six-story structures that will contain a new dining commons, a recreational gym and study areas for Mesa Court residents. It will also house anywhere from 500 to 750 students when it is completed before fall 2016. In the meantime, Mesa Court residents will eat at the new dining commons that has been set up in Lot Five to serve as a temporary replacement for the old dining commons.

The former dining commons were in operation four years after the university first opened in 1965 and were expanded over the years to suit the needs of students as the population of Mesa Court grew.  However as the building was continually upgraded, it became apparent that there were some aspects of the old building that made it obsolete in today’s food service market.

“Originally food was served more in a mess hall style where you just walk up in a line and there is a bin of food already cooked and just being kept warm. Today’s food delivery really is more on the spot, really a lot of the preparation and the cooking is happening in front of all the patrons,” said Melissa Falkenstien, director of Capital Projects and Asset Management for UC Irvine and one of the managers of the project.

According to Falkenstien, the original purpose of the project was limited to building a new dining hall for Mesa Court; however, other administrators believed that the project should be expanded to help solve UC Irvine’s rising housing shortage.

“Originally the project was to replace the dining commons, it’s a 1969 era project so it has really exceeded its useful life, as well as the fact that it was not meeting the needs of our existing student population. So we did a lot, Mesa Court did a lot to modify and tweak it, but it came to a point where we need to increase the size but just do a full update and refresh and then also as that thinking started our campus enrollment started increasing and we weren’t able to house freshmen in a residence hall environment.”

According to Falkenstien, Dr. Thomas Parham, the vice chancellor for Student Affairs was instrumental in getting the project organized and off the ground. The building project moved ahead and was approved by the UC Regents who approved a total budget of over $133 million for the project.

This project is the latest to expand UC Irvine on-campus housing for freshmen. According to the Connie Malone, director of Housing Administrative Services, 351 freshmen reportedly live in off-campus university apartments and 1,211 who live in non-university affiliated apartments or commute.

The three buildings will each have five floors with 50 rooms. Each of the rooms are 245 square foot and are “triple sized”. There will also be 25 bathrooms or one bathroom for every two rooms according to Gill. Each bathroom will be connected to two bedrooms and allows residents to go straight from their room to their bathroom without going into the hallway.  Gill believes this arrangement creates a “semi-private” bathroom for the residents of both rooms.

“Students want more privacy and this gives them the ability to have some privacy but still not, for freshmen we still want them to meet people and have a shared experience,” Gill explained.

In addition, each building will have three Residential Advisors who will be located in one of three “common living rooms” in each building that will allow residents to easily access their RA in times of need. As a result according to Gill and others the organization of the three buildings will change as RAs will no longer be responsible for the whole building but instead be in charge of several floors within the same building, thus starting a shift from “horizontal oriented housing to more vertical oriented housing” according to Gill.

This is not the only innovation to come from this project. The new building will be built using a relatively new technique that combines planning and construction into one continuous process. This new method called Design-Build combining the planning and construction process in order to shorten the overall length of the project. According to Falkenstien, the construction is broken up into smaller units with the architecture and designing firm planning out a portion of the building before the construction firm builds it. However, while the construction team builds one section of the building the architecture and design firm plans the schematics for the next section.

“The contractor starts building before the documentation is fully complete. They do documentation in packages, packages that focus on what they need to build … in the order of what they are building the design team produces packages, we approve them, we work in shoulder-to-shoulder reviews in one room for a day every week and hammer through any constructability or documentation issues and then they can start building on that approved package,” said Associate Architect for UC Irvine Design and Construction Services, Brian Pratt.

Pratt explained how this process eliminates long planning periods and inter-project conflict between the construction and architecture and designing firms.

This construction technique has been used several times before on campus and was used for the Gavin Howard Eye Institute, the Palo Verde Expansion, the Expansion of the UC Irvine Medical Center and others. According to Pratt, every major future building project will be constructed using the Design-Build method.

Both the construction firm, Hensel Philips, and the architecture and design firm, Mithun, have temporary offices on the building site for easy access and communication with UC Irvine staff. Also according to Pratt, both firms will work around student schedules and have taken precautions to limit their impact on life at Mesa Court— including the building of a sound insulating barrier between the site and the rest of Mesa, in front of Loma Hall. Other accommodations include plans to reduce work hours during finals week and move-in weekends.

According to the building schedule work teams from Hensel Philips will be building the foundation for the structures until November after which construction on the structures themselves are set to begin. If the project goes according to plan, residents will be able to move-in to the new halls starting fall quarter of 2016. Falkenstien does not want other residents of Mesa Court to think that the new buildings will only benefit those that will become future residents but will benefit all residents of Mesa Court for years to come.

“I would like residents to know that, yes, there will be residents living in that building … but a good amount of the project is also providing amenities to the entire community.”