Plans in Place for Amping up the Quarry

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Through the back of Quarry Plaza, past the Express Store, the Bay Tree Bookstore and Joe’s Pizza & Subs, there’s a pathway leading to an abandoned amphitheater. Surrounded by gorgeous rock walls and the campus’ quintessential redwoods, the desolate space once abuzz is now quiet.

The Quarry Amphitheater’s use has been limited, having been officially closed to the public since 2006. Maintenance for the space ceased due to a lack of funds and it began to slowly deteriorate. The wooden seating began to rot and became slippery and the lighting system started to fall apart. Consequently, visitors as well as administration deemed the space unsafe, and organizers turned to other places on campus to stage their performances.

“For a couple of years, we worked to try and find other venues around the campus that could essentially accommodate the types of activities we used to have,” said landscape architect Dean Fitch. “We started doing other things, so it kind of just got closed off until we were able to get enough momentum to say, ‘You know what? This is a really cool environment. How can we bring this back to life?’”

Fitch, who has worked in Physical Planning and Construction on campus since the early 1980s, is a member of the Core Advisory Group (CAG), a committee established by executive vice chancellor (EVC) Alison Galloway for advice on reconstruction. He joins an art consultant, a landscape architect group, student representatives and members of Risk and Safety Services.

All initial planning is predicted to be set in stone by the end of this academic year and basic restoration is expected to begin by fall quarter, Fitch said. This includes restoration of the benches and making the space compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After these preliminary steps, students can expect the construction of more elaborate additions, including the possibility of an increase in seating capacity, and what Fitch calls a “smart stage,” making the venue easier to maneuver depending on the type of event it will host.

“We’ll put infrastructure underneath the stage where people can plug and play,” Fitch said. “We’ll have various kinds of ports where we can have a small amp and guitar or plug in a series of lights — and it [will be] built so you don’t really see it. You don’t know it will be there, but it will have the flexibility for a whole range of uses — big and small.”

Fitch also said the renovations will have to work with the environment already in place to preserve its character as much as possible. However, accessing the space during construction could be difficult.
“There won’t be access other than through this narrow Quarry Plaza,” Fitch said. “We’ll have to figure out how to get the contractor in there early in the morning and hold him back until the evening when we can clear the space out. Otherwise, [construction] is not going to have an impact on the campus that much. It’s not going to shut down all the roads.”

Also among CAG members is Cultural Arts and Diversity director Don Williams, who stresses the importance of reconstruction as well as keeping the space clean.

“It’s like maintaining a house,” Williams said. “If you don’t take out the leaves from the gutter, the gutter will start to rot. The same thing applies to the amphitheater’s benches. If you don’t take care of them, termites will take over.”

Williams offers a unique perspective to CAG because of his relationship with students and student-run productions. Maintaining the amphitheater and its many add-ons, such as microphones and lights, will facilitate the array of events it hosted in the past, from intimate student concerts to graduation ceremonies, Williams said.

“We’ve had events with over 2,000 people — multicultural festivals with vendors and speakers, activities and music — as well as small plays, where 10 or 15 students had a reading or a small activity,” Fitch said. “All the graduations used to take place there. When chancellors were inaugurated, or when we had convocations, full dignitaries flew in from all over the world to participate in these big, fancy events. We’ve had the full gamut.”

While reconstruction is primarily meant to facilitate large-scale student events, Fitch stressed the importance of keeping the venue available for all visitors. It’s a balancing act, Fitch said.

“Even if you go there now, there are people who are just sitting there reading a book, totally enjoying the environment,” Fitch said.

While reviving the Quarry Amphitheater undoubtedly requires a large budget for reconstruction, money has only been allocated for initial planning, which includes hiring an architect and creating blueprint models, among other valuable steps in the process.

Assistant Dean of Students Lucy Rojas said via email that funding for planning and creating a feasible model for reconstruction comes from a variety of sources, including a donation for an unspecified amount and money from the student fee Seismic Safety.

This fee is paid annually by students and goes toward the maintenance of student-used facilities, such as the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) and the health center, Rojas said. A percentage of this fee goes into a reserve fund annually, and it is this specific percentage within the reserve fund that the CAG used in planning.

The next step would be opening up the amphitheater to function for basic, minimal use by summer 2015. To achieve this, money would be further allocated to renovate the seating and make the overall space ADA-compatible, Rojas said.

The final step would be the attribution of new lights, sound systems, concession stands — all upgrades to reconvert the space into the venue it once was. Both Rojas and EVC Galloway hope more donors step forward to achieve this final goal. Rojas also added that a newly renovated facility may attract potential business partners or outside organizations who may want to rent the space out for their own use. UCSC administration would then use the revenue made from renting to pay off what it spent on planning and reconstruction and to help maintain the amphitheater.

Although it is anticipated by the CAG that a renewed amphitheater would bring much excitement to campus life overall, students had the option of expressing their own concerns and opinions. Now closed, an online survey was available at the Dean of Students website encouraging student input. Outreach meetings were also held in January, harnessing varied perspectives from the community.

“What we want to bring back is the ability to have quiet, intimate conversations, all the way up to full-on campus activity where we can bring in a diverse group of folks,” Fitch said. “We don’t want to lose the small intimacy, but we still want to have a venue where we can get 1,500 to 2,000 people from all over campus to engage in one big, happy place.”