After nearly three years of discussions and delays, the Johnson Student Center is being torn down over winter break. However, a deficit of more than $15 million remains to build its replacement, which is expected to open in 2021, officials said.
Interior demolition began last week on the aging building that once held the majority of student services and served as a center for campus life. Exterior demolition will start Dec. 17.
The Don Bookstore, The Spot, a cafeteria and about a dozen offices were moved out of the Johnson Center and into portable structures in spring 2016, with demolition planned for that summer. However, a demolition contract was not approved by the board until last month.
“When you have construction like this, delays happen often,” Santa Ana College President Linda Rose said. “It’s nothing new in community colleges because you have things go on with the schedule we don’t even know about. The delays are actually pretty normal.”
Recent inflation in the construction market is driving up project costs, which increased to $15.26 million during the delays, according to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Facility Planning and Construction and Support Services Carri Matsumoto. To make up the gap, the district plans to use savings from other campus construction projects, such as the Central Plant and the new Science Center. Board members also said the school could use funds set aside for a proposed parking lot on Bristol and 17th streets, which is currently on hold.
Demolition and construction of the new center are expected to cost $47.2 million, while the entire project budget is $60 million. The project is part of the campus overhaul funded by Measure Q bonds, which allocated $44.6 million for the project.
District officials said the costs for the new building could increase even more. Because the original building was constructed in 1968, there are potential problems that won’t be known until crews begin the heavy work of breaking old slab, adding new foundation and re-adding new slab to support the new 63,642-square-foot center.
“We know the Johnson Center is going to cost more [than the current budget], but we have money from another project that we didn’t use to go back into it, so that too is in the prospect,” RSCCD Trustee and Chair of the Board Facilities and Board Policy Committee Larry Labrado said.
When completed, the new Johnson Center will house a conference center, a coffee shop, and offices that are located in The Village, including Financial Aid, the Health and Wellness Center and the Office of Student Life. This will also include hardscape, landscape, and shade shelter as well as a kiosk that will serve Middle College High School students during lunchtime.
Though it was vacated two and a half years ago, dates and plans for demolition and construction of the Johnson Center changed more than five times. The college took advantage of these delays by utilizing its classrooms and patio as late as the end of last year.
In January 2017, issues with the weight of a new ventilation system being installed on the roof of the N Building forced music faculty into classrooms in the cleared-out Johnson Center for the spring semester.
That fall, construction in Phillips Hall pushed the theater department into the Johnson Center. On Sept. 11, 2017, a pipe burst on the second-floor and seeped through to first-floor classrooms, dropping ceiling tiles and flooding a theatre class that was in session.
“Obviously with the roof caving in on us within weeks of the semester starting and then the AC went out in the next room they put us in, it didn’t feel safe altogether,” said theatre professor Amberly Chamberlain said.
In November 2017, the theater department moved back into Phillips Hall, and the Johnson Center was permanently closed. The interior has since remained gutted and empty.
As one of the few gathering places with shade on campus, the Johnson Center patio remained in use by coffee cart The Drip and hosted various club activities until the end of the Fall 2017 semester.
The loss of the Johnson Center’s cafeteria also left the campus without warm meals. Students and faculty have had to purchase hot food from the various food trucks that park near The Village, such as El Pepino Loco and Dos Mexicanos. Pre-packaged food remains available at the Don Express and the Don Bookstore.
The Drip was relocated to a permanent shade structure between the new amphitheater and Nealley Library. Once the new building is complete, the district is planning to turn The Village back into a parking lot.
“Upon construction completion, the district will have to terminate the lease on leased portables and remove them from Parking Lot # 11 to increase parking. The district-owned portables have yet to be determined on use by the college, and it’s currently under review,” Matsumoto said.
Demolition of the old Johnson Center is expected to take two and a half months. Students and faculty should prepare for construction impacts as the new center are built over the next few years. Expect loud noises and vibrations, administrators said at a November facilities meeting. Fencing erected for demolition will remain in place for the duration of the project.
“Unfortunately, construction noise during the demolition will be ongoing for several months as there is no ideal time to undertake construction when the college is open year round, seven days a week,” Matsumoto said.
To help students navigate campus during construction of the new Johnson Center, officials plan to distribute maps with designated routes and provide updates via the college’s website.
The new Johnson Center is slated to be ready for students by spring 2021.
“I can’t wait,” Rose, SAC’s president, said. “I’m really excited I can’t wait till we get that new center up because it will just be so much more inviting and a place for students to gather.”