Hundreds of volunteers have pivoted from their rallying cry of “Save the Domes!” to actually fixing the funky student housing cooperative that bulldozers were supposed to crush in July.
About 250 UC Davis students, faculty and former residents of the Baggins End Domes, aka “Domies,” picked up hammers, hoes and saws over the past three days to repair the 14 dwellings that sprawl across 3 1/2 acres.
Derek Downey, 25, who spent Saturday digging out the grave-like pits needed to build handicap-accessible garden beds, said keeping the Domes around inspires its residents. They, in turn, can energize people outside the commune.
“Having a hub like the Domes is a catalyst for creating beautiful change in the world,” Downey said.
Project leaders hope to have the repairs finished and students living in the 39-year-old cooperative by Jan. 1, said organizer Margareta Lelea. Fixes and upgrades include replacing foam insulation that’s rotted over the decades and making two of the Domes wheelchair-accessible.
“Things are happening,” Lelea said amid a mix of volunteers hauling lumber, digging holes and injecting foam insulation. “It’s everyone from people who helped build the Domes in 1972 to freshmen who’ve never even heard of them before.”
In January, UCD administrators decided not to renew the students’ leases and tear down the Domes, saying the estimated $900,000 it would take to repair and modernize them was too much money.
However, a groundswell of opposition stayed the administration’s hand. More than 3,000 people wrote letters opposing the Domes destruction, Lelea said. People who wanted to keep the unique housing community came to the table with university administrators in the spring to reach a compromise.
“We’re collaborating with the administration,” Lelea said. “I think the key turning point was building a relationship and showing solid proposals.”
The university’s cost estimates, however, only took into account standard university building protocol, Lelea said. Volunteer and intern labor lower those costs.
She said $120,000 should cover the needed repairs. Organizers already have raised $30,000 in donations.
Moreover, administrators figured on replacing all the foam insulation when they made their decision. However, after inspecting the Domes in May, an architect determined that contractors could replace sections that were damaged, but leave most of the insulation intact.
The university is in the final stages of negotiating a lease agreement with Solar Community Housing Association to manage the Domes property for the next five years.
The association is involved in other cooperative housing projects in town, including the two houses that were moved from near Central Park to J Street last year.
Lelea wants the Domes to continuing “serving as an innovation hub for sustainability.”
Cooperative housing in general curbs the amount of energy that people need to live, said Max Stevenson, 43, who lived in the Domes from 1992 to 1997 and serves on the Solar Community Housing Association’s board of directors.
“Everyone doesn’t need their own refrigerator, their own bathroom, their own stove, their own car,” he said while holding materials he needed to tackle his next project. “You’re sharing infrastructure.”
And you’re sharing space, he added. Each Dome covers 550 square feet, he said. Two people live in each one, which means each person takes up 225 square feet, far less space than a house or even an average apartment.
“A lot of people don’t need a 1,000-square-foot apartment,” he said. “It’s living simply so others can simply live.”
Downey said he “was always inspired by the projects these two communities did,” he said, speaking of the Domes and another on-campus co-op he lived in. “It’s a place where people can feel empowered to take on projects they never would’ve imagined otherwise.
“Creativity is highest when there’s a lot of love around, and there’s a lot of people who share passions,” he continued.
“We’re only limited by our creativity.”
Project leaders are also limited by the checklist they need to complete to meet their agreement with the university. Clayton Halliday, assistant vice chancellor and campus architect, checked out the site Saturday afternoon.
He said two big challenges are making sure two of the Domes are made handicap-accessible by being “completely renovated” and fixing some electrical issues.
“So far, everything is looking great,” Halliday said.
However, university officials will need to inspect all the Domes before the association, should it land the management contract, lets students back in to live.