Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – During appearances before local interest groups, Humboldt State officials are revealing more information about the university’s planned polytechnic designation and transformation. Other aspects remain vague as planning moves from scoping and self-study to implementation, where still-undecided details of the historic transformation will be hammered out.
Among the groups receiving presentations have been the Arcata Chamber of Commerce, Dairy Community, Old Town Rotary, Community Economic Resilience Coalition, Buckeye Association and Farm Bureau, North Coast Health Leadership tea and the Providence, St. Joseph hospital board.
In an Aug. 23 presentation before the Redwood Region Economic Development Corporation (RREDC), President Tom Jackson, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jenn Capps, who has led the polytechnic transition, and Vice President & HSU Foundation Executive Director Frank Whitlach framed the redesignation as a boon to the North Coast.
Capps said the polytechnic designation will make the university a “triple threat institution” by offering new access to degree programs which are fully enrolled and inaccessible at other universities, addressing major gaps in the workforce and stimulating the North Coast economy, all while maintaining a strong liberal arts curriculum.
With its self-study phase complete and Polytechnic Prospectus finalized and posted at humboldt.edu/polytechnic, the document now goes to the California State University Board of Trustees for review and hoped-for approval in January. The final doc include only what an HSU spokesman called "minor changes and additions." Meanwhile, further details, including curriculum and infrastructure will be fleshed out until fall of 2023, when the first of three implementation phases will begin.
The university has received a staggering $458 million to fund the polytechnic ramp-up, with the monies designated for creating the required facilities, housing, infrastructure and curriculum.
Capps said polytechnic programs have been fashioned to fill gaps in HSU’s offerings, to expand offerings which are fully booked at other polytechnics, to address workforce needs and help address California’s problems and priorities. Thus engineering and technology have been emphasized in addition to already strong applied science.
RREDC participants urged the HSU officials to include an aviation element to the curriculum, and to look at ways for the polytechnic to help Humboldt retain its water rights, which are subject to possible revision in the year 2029.
The Prospectus mentions new, $150 million Mixed Use Engineering & Technology Building and housing, located at a “key campus gateway.” Last week, the university disclosed that this facility is being planned for the site of the Campus Events Field at the corner of Harpst and B streets.
With the student population projected to more than double to 11,000 by 2029 and staff to expand as well, housing is the “most challenging issue,” Capps said. The university now provides just 2,000 beds on campus, which Jackson said can be doubled.
Some of the projected student enrollment increase can be controlled by measured rollout of new academic programs. Also helping to moderate housing pressure is that just 60 percent of classes are expected to take place face-to-face, with the rest to be conducted online.
Capps said that co-location will be emphasized in creation of new facilities, with housing, academic and amenities such as retail space to be mingled. “Co-locating using mixed-use space is correlated with better learning outcomes, and frankly, in my experience, it’s more pleasing to the community as well because the community gets a little something as well,” Capps said.
To help with housing and improve safety and aesthetic conditions on the Arcata side of the pedestrian footbridge, Jackson said the university attempted to lease or acquire Northtown’s Fairwinds Motel, but was declined.
As for the pending, 800-bed, four building housing complex to be built at the Craftsman Mall, at the August meeting of Arcata’s Public Safety Committee, member Fred Johansen said he and other Westwood-area residents are alarmed about the planned project just east of their neighborhood. (The committee formed three subcommittees to study safety issues in central Arcata, the Westwood/Craftsman Mall area and in Valley West.)
The Craftsman Mall project uses initial plans for the abandoned The Village housing project as a starting point for planning. Johansen erroneously put the tentative student population there at 1,600, apparently misreading the planned 800 beds as being 800 two-student housing units.
But his concern wasn’t entirely unfounded. During a subsequent presentation to the Arcata Chamber of Commerce, HSU officials said there is significant pressure to add still more beds on the site.
“There are a lot of people convinced that we could do quite a bit more than 800 out there and the need is certainly great,” Whitlach said. He said planning is in “high gear” to move quickly on the project.
Still, said an HSU spokesman, "before we have gotten into more detailed planning underway, 800 is the number we are working with."
Arcata Community Development Director David Loya said the density of the student population and other aspects of the planned development are beyond Arcata’s control. With the property now owned within the CSU system, “the project is going to be permitted by the state, so it is not technically subject to our regulations,” Loya said. “So even if we did have regulations around population density, they wouldn’t apply.”
Follow-up questions to university staff about further expanding the Craftsman Mall housing, co-location of amenities there, access routes and connectivity elicited few further details, on grounds that plans are still morphing.
Capps said an updated HSU Master Plan is in the works.
Connie Stewart, executive director of initiatives for HSU, said the university is in talks with local medical providers to find ways to expand local healthcare to adequately serve the much larger student and staff population.
This story was updated and expanded from the print version.