The University Union (UU) Neighborhood Project has had to scale down renovation plans due to COVID-19 loss of funds, according to the University Union Advisory Board.

The UU Neighborhood Project, headed by Associated Students Inc. (ASI), aimed to completely renovate the Julian A. McPhee University Union. The project has been in the works since 2016, however, the project was put on hold once COVID-19 hit in the spring.

The project originally had a budget of $14 million and was supposed to encompass the entire UU and include renovations to the alleyway between the University Store and Mustang Station, Chumash Auditorium, the UU Plaza, Building 19, the UU Starbucks and the Mustang Station patio, according to a 2019 Mustang News article.

However, due to the recent loss of funds due to COVID-19, the UU Neighborhood Project will now only focus on renovations to the Chumash Auditorium, located on the second floor of the UU, according to Ron Skamfer, ASI’s Facilities Management Director.

The current budget to renovate the Chumash Auditorium is $2 million, a decrease from the $5 million budget the project originally had. The renovations to the Chumash Auditorium will mostly be “behind the scenes work,” said Skamfer in an advisory board meeting on Oct. 1. The project will focus on improvements to lighting, audio work, technical work and add a new coat of paint to the Chumash Auditorium, according to Skamfer.

The $3 million budget cut to the Chumash Auditorium has caused major cuts to the cosmetic design for the project.

According to Cole Dorris, Chair of the UU Advisory Board, the board is still hoping to fund a new check-in counter in the Chumash Auditorium. However, the addition of new furniture, carpeting and light fixtures have all been put on pause for this round of renovation, according to Dorris.

“In comparison to the intended project, it’s nothing similar,” Dorris said. “It’ll basically just be like you’re walking back into the good old Chumash we know and love.”

In the most recent advisory board meeting, Skamfer said that by November or December of this year, the advisory board will have a better idea of what will fit in the budget. From there the board can make decisions on what will be a priority for fixing Chumash Auditorium.

The majority of loss of funding for the UU Neighborhood Project stems from a $7.9 million loan that the UU recently issued to University Housing.

When COVID-19 hit last spring, and the majority of students moved off campus for the 2020 spring quarter, housing revenue dropped nearly to zero because of the refunds University Housing was issuing to students. In addition, University Housing is a state operation and cannot end the year in a deficit, according to Dorris.

The UU Neighborhood Project funds were deemed the best sum of money available and were therefore given to University Housing as a loan. This massively impaired the advisory board’s ability to fund the planned renovations to the UU, according to Dorris.

Although the majority of the reduced UU Neighborhood Project budget will go towards improvements to the Chumash Auditorium, the $2 million will also go towards building a gender-neutral restroom in the UU.

During the UU Advisory Board meeting on Oct. 1, Ron Skamfer said that the original UU Neighborhood Project plans proposed the gender-neutral restroom be built on the first floor of the UU near Mustang Station.

Now, the plan is to convert the male restroom on the first floor of the UU across from Starbucks into an all-gender restroom, according to Dorris.

A design and construction contractor have been identified and the advisory board has seen a few design renderings, according to Dorris.

Dorris said he is hoping that the advisory board and ASI will receive some finalized designs by the end of the calendar year and therefore be able to begin construction on the gender-neutral restroom in early 2021.

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