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Orange Coast College dedicates new student union

Officials gather to cut the ceremonial ribbon during a dedication event for OCC's student union on Thursday.
Dr. Angelica Suarez, left, Orange Coast College president, and Mary Hornbuckle, right, Coast Community College District Board of Trustees president, shared the honor of cutting the ceremonial ribbon during a ribbon-cutting dedication event for OCC’s Student Union on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Two years removed from being forced to shut down campus during the beginning stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Orange Coast College continues to develop.

On Thursday the Costa Mesa community college celebrated its fifth building opening — the fourth on-campus — in the last two years. School and district officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for the new student union.

The building, visible from Fairview Road, is currently open for business from Monday through Thursday. It sits adjacent to the College Center.

The two buildings, which had a combined cost of $113 million, were funded through Measure M, a $698-million bond measure for the Coast Community College district that was passed in 2012.

Orange Coast College has also used Measure M money to open an aquatics center and Language Arts and Social Sciences building on campus, and a Professional Mariner Training Center at OCC’s waterfront campus on Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach.

Dr. Angelica Suarez, Orange Coast College president, speaks during a ribbon-cutting dedication event for OCC's student union.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“It’s phenomenal,” OCC President Dr. Angelica Suarez said, adding the student union represents the heartbeat of the campus. “It really speaks to the commitment that this college has had to creating that on-site experience for our students ... It’s interesting because I get phone calls asking, ‘Is OCC a four-year college?’ I say, ‘It’s an institution that has a direct path to a university.’ We are investing in our students by giving them tools.

“It’s a message to our student community, ‘Welcome home and we missed you.’”

Boasting nearly 41,000 square feet of space, the two-story student union is open four days a week, Monday through Thursday. Construction finished in 2020, and a soft opening was held last fall, but Suarez said more and more students should be able to experience the new facility. She said about 70% of the school’s classes are back on campus for the spring semester.

Orange County Second District Supervisor Katrina Foley, the former mayor of Costa Mesa who lives not far from the OCC campus, attended Thursday’s ceremony. She said the school’s recent developments are exciting.

Students and visitors explore OCC's student union after a ribbon-cutting dedication and open house event on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Foley’s son, Ben, is currently enrolled at OCC, one of many Costa Mesa High graduates who venture across the street to continue their educational pursuits. She also met her husband of 30 years, Casey, there.

“Great things happen on this campus,” she said with a smile. “It’s like a university campus here ... and our students benefit from having a central hub for student events, studying and socializing.”

Designed by Newport Beach-based tBP/Architecture and constructed by C.W. Driver, the student union is home to a bevy of groups including the Associated Students of Orange Coast College, as well as the college’s veterans affairs, scholarships and outreach programs.

It also has new features like a Mind, Body and Spirit room which serves different cultures on campus, and a lactation room for student parents.

Dr. John Weispfenning, the chancellor of the Coast Community College District, said he appreciated the energy running through the new facility.

“What I see when I look at this space is the unlimited potential for student life at Orange Coast College,” Weispfenning said. “After being separated from each other for so long, I know that these students will make the most of this opportunity to reenergize their campus experience.”

Shana Jenkins, ASOCC alumna and foundation member for Orange Coast College, speaks during Thursday's dedication event.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Shana Jenkins, an ASOCC alumna who now serves on the OCC Foundation Board of Directors, said the new student union has been a long time coming since she first arrived on campus in 2003.

“We wanted space,” she said. “All we had at the time was a very small multipurpose room with a few tables and couches, and not much else, that we had to share with everyone. We wanted somewhere for clubs to meet that wasn’t in a classroom ... and this is so much more than we could have ever imagined 20 years ago.”

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