Construction is nothing new at UCLA, but post-earthquake rebuilding efforts have propelled hard-hat activity to new heights this fall, transforming the heart of the Westwood campus into a rat's maze of chain-link corridors, dirt trenches and scaffolding.
Students and professors dodge dump trucks and endure whining drills and rumbling bulldozers. The setting is anything but pastoral.
In spite of it all, students seem to be adapting. Even the high-decibel roar of a jackhammer one recent morning failed to break the conversation of dozens of students relaxing in a courtyard near Kerckhoff Hall, the hub of student government and campus publications.
"It's kind of typical of UCLA to have something under construction," said Ivan Marks, a 22-year-old senior in biochemistry. "Our flag should be this (yellow) caution tape. There's so much of it here."
UCLA was performing seismic reinforcement well before the earthquake as part of a two-decade program to make 30 campus buildings more quake-resistant. But the Jan. 17 earthquake forced UCLA to accelerate the program, which is now one-third complete.
Many students say they never expect to see the university as it was meant to be. They'll be the graduates of the University of Construction, Los Angeles.
"It's a little more trouble getting from class to class, but it's better than having the buildings fall down on you," said Robin Au, an 18-year-old freshman.
This year, most of the construction is concentrated in the campus's core. Among the buildings affected is the Ackerman student union, a beehive of student life that is being expanded and seismically upgraded. It now resembles a military bunker surrounded by a plywood barricade.
When the dust settles, students and university officials can blame January's magnitude 6.7 earthquake for stepping up the construction schedule and dramatically increasing the costs of repairs and seismic upgrades.
The earthquake left cracks in the university's trademark towers at Royce Hall, now swathed in scaffolding. And it damaged at least half a dozen other main campus structures and up to 13 buildings at the vast Center for Health Sciences.
Campus officials had hoped before the quake to work on Royce Hall after completing seismic work on historic Powell Library, across the main quad. Now, however, with the two projects taking place simultaneously, most of the once-scenic central quad is blocked off with chain-link fence and green canvas. Some enterprising students have attempted to turn this maze into an impromptu billboard for events and political statements.
Besides causing inconvenience, the earthquake damage might have increased the cost of the university's seismic work by nearly 50%, mostly in added repairs, said Charles W. Oakley, campus architect.
Adding further to the bill is the cost of meeting the seismic standards of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which are more rigorous than those included in UCLA's original seismic improvement plan. The university wants to comply with the FEMA standards, however, because it hopes the agency will pay for 90% of the work, Oakley said. Seismic repairs on the medical buildings alone could soar to $500 million, and to $125 million for Royce and six other significantly damaged buildings.