Oberlin College students Anna Aronowitz and Uma Venkatraman examine a mural in progress by artist Danielle Fodor in Dome 6 on Monday. The pair are part of a team to work on sustainability projects during their month-long internship. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Oberlin College students Anna Aronowitz and Uma Venkatraman examine a mural in progress by artist Danielle Fodor in Dome 6 on Monday. The pair are part of a team to work on sustainability projects during their month-long internship. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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Students return to Baggins End domes at UC Davis

By From page A1 | January 10, 2012

Just in time for the start of winter classes on Monday, students have moved back into some of the Domes at Baggins End, a small housing community at UC Davis with a 40-year history of sustainability.

The Solar Community Housing Association of Davis and UCD signed on Dec. 23 a long-awaited ground lease for the association to be a third-party manager for the Domes. And following association-led repairs, university safety inspectors approved occupancy for seven of the 14 Domes last Wednesday.

The housing association, a local nonprofit that has provided environmentally conscious and affordable cooperative housing in the city of Davis since 1979, already has students interested in living in the other Domes when they are ready. The Domes cooperative, which housed a total of 28 students last year, had been vacant since early August.

“The reopening of the Domes demonstrates how community support and participation, open dialogue, and collaboration can make large projects happen, even in a time of austerity,” said Greta Lelea, who is a member of the association’s board of directors as well as a UCD post-doctoral researcher and a former Domes resident.

Mary Hayakawa, executive director of the real estate services at UCD, led the university’s efforts to negotiate with the association for the ground lease and a license that allowed repair work to begin in advance of the lease signing.

“We are pleased to begin this new partnership that will allow the cherished heritage of the Domes to continue,” she said.

Innovative structures when they were first built, the Domes have served as a demonstration of eco-friendly living and have been the subject of research, tours and even UCD courses.

Concerns arose last year with a report of degradation of the foam structure within the Domes. University officials and independent inspectors identified numerous structural, health and safety, and fire code issues along with the need for improvements required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Citing costs to remedy the problems, the university announced last February that it would not re-offer the 40-year-old structures for lease when agreements expired at the end of July. As a self-supporting unit, Student Housing, which oversaw the Domes, does not receive state or campus funding; each housing area must operate as a self-supporting unit.

Domes residents voiced concern for keeping their community together in the short term while the university’s Sustainable Living and Learning Task Force explored the long-term future for sustainable student living-learning communities on campus. They had an outpouring of support from the university community, alumni and supporters from the broader region.

In March, the association submitted a proposal to step in as a third-party management group, repair the Domes and lease them to students for the next five years. For about eight months, university and association representatives — including doctoral student and Domes resident JayLee Tuil and SCHA Project Manager Ben Pearl — met to address health and safety concerns and negotiate the ground lease.

To reach the agreement, the association provided sufficient capitalization or guaranties and insurance and met other requirements to use a licensed architect to prepare plans and licensed contractors to lead the repair work.

At a November work party, about 450 volunteers — including carpenters and contractors — completed about 90 percent of the necessary repairs from painting to installing new ventilation. Local artists created tile mosaics and large-scale murals, and local businesses and restaurants donated materials and food.

The association has hired contractors to make one of the Domes wheelchair-accessible and renovate another to be a welcome dome with an office for coordinating projects. That work is scheduled to be completed by July.

Students moving in are eager to expand the legacy of the Domes.

“It’s exciting to have a small part in the large community effort to save the Domes and see them re-inhabited,” said Sheryl Sensenig, a new resident studying agricultural and environmental education at UCD.

Lelea said volunteers and support to help re-establish the community have come from many directions.

“This is bigger than just housing,” she said. “It is about how to live in a more sustainable and cooperative world.”

A team of five students from Oberlin College, in Ohio, will work on sustainability projects during a monthlong internship.

“The story of the Domes is very compelling to members of other student co-ops,” said Isabel Call, a former resident of the Domes and an alumna of Oberlin College.

The Berkeley Student Cooperative has provided $20,000 of financial support for renovations and repairs, $10,000 of which was matched by contributions individual donors.

SCHA operates three other housing cooperatives in Davis: Sunwise, J Street and the newly opened Cornucopia Corner Co-op.

— UC Davis News Service

Special to The Enterprise

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