Using pandemic-related funds, Sacramento State adds and improves outdoor seating and event spaces
August 30, 2023
Studying, gathering and enjoying outdoor events at Sacramento State is a lot easier with the recent completion of several campuswide projects.
Utilizing about $5 million in pandemic-related funding, the University installed new pergolas, renovated a popular outdoor event venue, and reimagined a large section of grass as an art-inspired gathering space with plenty of seating.
The money also supported several smaller improvements, including a shade covering above a stepped seating area at the Ernest E. Tschannen Science Complex, several new seating options on campus, and enclosing the Dining Commons patio to encourage outdoor dining.
The funding came from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act aid package Congress passed in 2020.
The pandemic limited and, in many cases, eliminated the ability to congregate indoors. Facilities project manager Tania Nunez said the upgrades will give the campus more options in a future crisis because “you can transition a little more easily if we’ve got some outdoor spaces.”
A major renovation to the Union stage at Serna Plaza near the Hornet Bookstore was completed just in time for the start of fall classes. The project had long been desired but was not a high funding priority, said Bill Olmsted, executive director of Union WELL, Inc., which also helped fund the renovation.
“We've always used that as an outdoor performance space, primarily,” Olmsted said. “But it has never been ideal for watching an event because it was all grass, and the slope of the grass was actually pretty steep. There was also no shade.”
Tiered seating and artificial turf replaced the grass slope, and an orange metal beam provides shade. The venue includes lighting and hand railings, several electrical outlets, two sets of stairs, and a ramp that can access the stage and the area in front of it.
“We have a completely different kind of venue now. I'm excited for what we are going to be able to offer to the students.” -- Bill Olmsted, executive director of Union WELL, Inc.
A patch of grass on the top level can accommodate more spectators. The University also repaired an existing covering that can fold out from the stage to create added shade.
The stage, which was added to the Union in 1998, has traditionally been used for concerts, outdoor movies, guest speakers, and other events put on by UNIQUE Programs, but other members of the campus community also can reserve the space.
The renovations will also make the space more amenable for relaxing, studying, and gathering, Olmsted said.
“We have a completely different kind of venue now,” Olmsted said. “I'm excited for what we are going to be able to offer to the students.”
Another HEERF project replaced a large patch of grass that had minimal protection from the elements. Near the University Library, between Capistrano Hall and Studio Theatre, the area features semi-adjustable seating as well as disc-shaped shade coverings that borrow colors from the mural on the back of the nearby Saigon Bay Express eatery.
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Though no specific plans are in place, Nunez said she believes the space will be more efficient for students and campus groups.
“Hopefully, (it will) make that space more exciting and usable,” Nunez said. “We didn't really see people use it very much when it was a big grassy lawn.”
Sac State’s eight new pergolas, built during spring 2023, join several smaller pre-existing pergolas and feature two different seating and table surface arrangements. In key areas of campus near popular paths and walkways, both layouts can seat about a dozen people and are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
“One of the cool things I don't think many students know about (the pergolas) is that there's actually electrical outlets,” Nunez said. “We engaged with the architect to help design them, and we were trying to pay homage to all the (existing) pergolas.”
The new structures feature a green metal and natural wood aesthetic, and foliage eventually will grow over them to provide shade.
“I think they're super pretty,” Nunez said. “When I take people around campus, outside folks, either from the Chancellor's Office or other campuses, they're like, ‘Oh, those are so cool.’ ”
Felicia Johnson, Sac State’s new associate vice president for Facilities Management, said she can appreciate the value in improving these outdoor spaces.
“Although I was not at Sacramento State at the height of the pandemic, in retrospect, I can see how the campus prioritized the use of HEERF funding so that it benefitted students,” Johnson said. “The outdoor seating projects are only one example of how Sacramento State pivoted from grappling with a pandemic to focusing on future-oriented solutions that can be enjoyed and utilized for years to come.”
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