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OCC’s sea change continues as $61.5M Language Arts building greets returning students

A new Language Arts and Social Sciences building at Orange Coast College.
A new Language Arts and Social Sciences building at Orange Coast College is the latest Measure M project to open on campus in Costa Mesa.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

While Orange Coast College students continue to do most of their learning online, several major building projects that have been in the works since before the pandemic began are nearing completion and changing the face of the Costa Mesa campus.

Construction recently wrapped on a $61.5-million Language Arts and Social Sciences building, whose 107,760 square feet will host a variety of courses, from literature and speech and debate to archeology and sociology.

Partially open for use this fall, the space also features staff offices and a state-of-the-art newsroom for OCC’s Coast Report newspaper, where screens will scroll breaking news for passersby. The three-story structure is the latest in a series of new sites popping up on campus.

A new Aquatics Complex at Costa Mesa's Orange Coast College, one of several Measure M projects, opened in January.
A new Aquatics Complex at Costa Mesa’s Orange Coast College, one of several Measure M projects, opened in January, though many students have yet to use it.
(File Photo)

An athletics and kinesiology center, outfitted with a 65-meter competition pool, opened in January for pandemic-approved athletic trainings, while a 160,000-square foot Student Union and College Center complex came online this fall.

And just last month, school officials held a ribbon-cutting for a $22-million Professional Mariner Training Center at OCC’s waterfront campus in Newport Beach.

The projects were made possible through a combination of state funding and Measure M, a $698-million bond measure for Coast Community College District passed by district voters in 2012.

Steve Tamanaha, OCC’s acting vice president of administrative services, said $480 million of Measure M funds were earmarked for Orange Coast College projects.

“The citizens of our area were very helpful in our getting these done,” he said Thursday. “We’re very appreciative of their support.”

A cafeteria in the new College Center building at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
A cafeteria in the new College Center building at Orange Coast College is part of a $113-million Student Union Complex that welcomed students this fall.
(File Photo)

Now that about 20% to 25% of courses are being offered on the physical grounds this semester, many of the newly constructed classroom space is being seen and used for the first time, said OCC spokesman Juan Gutierrez.

“We started these buildings when students weren’t here, and we mostly finished them while they were gone,” he added. “So, for the students who came back this semester, it’s a different campus.”

The new Language Arts and Social Sciences building will be connected to a 90,000-square-foot Math, Business and Computing center, completed in 2015 with Measure M funding, by a pedestrian bridge.

“Because part of the vision was to have two companion buildings, there’s a skyway that goes from one to another,” Tamanaha said. “It’s quite a conglomeration of different programs on campus, but it’s nice to have them all housed in one place.”

A pedestrian skyway cat a newly constructed Language Arts and Social Sciences building at Orange Coast College.
A pedestrian skyway connects a recently completed Language Arts and Social Sciences building at OCC to a Math, Business and Computing center built in 2015.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Each “smart classroom” is equipped with Wi-Fi and an 85-inch screen that lets instructors and students display multiple presentations at once, and a computerized climate-control system makes the building more efficient.

Meanwhile, a three-story profile creates a smaller building footprint that frees more space on the OCC campus for students, many of whom commute to in-person classes, to congregate.

“We’re trying to make the technology within the building more adapted to what students’ needs are nowadays,” Tamanaha said. “It’s a lot more inviting and visually pleasing, and there are a lot of open spaces for students to gather and communally work with each other.”

Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis, left, at full bridge simulator at Orange Coast College Professional Mariner Training Center.
Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis, left, at full bridge simulator at Orange Coast College’s newly opened Professional Mariner Training Center in Newport Beach.
(File Photo)

The Language Arts and Social Sciences complex was built by Pasadena-based C.W. Driver Companies, a construction firm known for large civic projects and school campus rebuilds, including OCC’s Student Union Complex and the kinesiology center.

Project Executive Dave Amundson, who lives in Huntington Beach, said the firm’s employees have been building projects on the Costa Mesa campus since 2006 and have partnered with school leaders to help transition the site into the 21st century.

“I went to Golden West College. My niece goes to OCC, and my kids will likely go to school in these buildings,” he said, admitting he looks at the campus with pride every time he drives by it. “It’s exciting to be a part of working in your community and building in your community.”

School officials say they have more plans for Measure M funds, including a new chemistry building. Its groundbreaking is scheduled for June 2022.

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