California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis joined UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox and other campus leaders Friday, June 17, on a tour of the campus while discussing classroom space needs as the student population continues to grow.
“It’s wonderful to be back on campus,” said Kounalakis, who previously visited UCR in 2019 while a candidate. The lieutenant governor is a member of the UC Board of Regents.
Wilcox and Gerry Bomotti, vice chancellor for Planning, Budget and Administration, accompanied her on a tour of the Student Success Center. They noted that in less than a year since it opened it has become a popular space for student learning and activity, hosting up to 2,000 students at a time in lecture halls, study spaces, and meeting rooms.
“This has been a great addition to the campus,” Wilcox said. “It just helps the whole campus (to show) ‘Look at this, we’re moving ahead’.”
They stopped to talk in the building’s 400-seat round lecture hall, the only one of its kind on campus. It includes swivel chairs that allow students to circle completely around while engaged in group discussions, a feature Kounalakis admired.
“What a smart change,” she said, noting that traditional lecture halls can seem rigid.
While the new building has helped, Wilcox and Bomotti described how UCR still has a deficit of about 4,400 classroom seats and lags behind other campuses in resources to make up that deficit.
Some buildings date back to the 1950s and 1960s and still utilize their original plumbing and mechanics, Bomotti said. Due to the space crunch, classes are scheduled from 8 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m. UCR also continues to use the University Village movie theater for classes, an inconvenience for students and faculty members due to its distance from campus. Kounalakis visited the site as part of her tour.
Another challenge they discussed was rising construction costs. The cost for a new School of Business building have gone from about $60 million, when planning began in early 2020, to about $87 million, Bomotti said.
A state bill, introduced by Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, would provide UCR and UC Merced $1.46 billion to build new classrooms, hire staff, and address other needs. UC has also requested $31.5 million in annual funding for targeted student services and $4 million for cancer research, plus $1.5 billion in additional capital outlay funding for a total capital request of $1.6 billion towards critical deferred maintenance, seismic renovations, energy efficiency, and academic capacity.
As part of her visit, Kounalakis also toured the Center for Environmental Research and Technology, or CE-CERT, where she spent time talking to students. At the Multidisciplinary Research Center she met a delegation from Argentina, on campus to discuss the lithium industry, that included the lieutenant governor of the province of Catamarca.
“It was wonderful to be back at UC Riverside where I had the opportunity to learn directly from graduate students about innovative projects and solutions to the climate challenges we all face,” she said. “Between micro-grid systems, hydrogen powered heavy-duty vehicle research, and atmospheric research on the impact of emissions, the value of the work being conducted at the CE-CERT facility cannot be overstated.”