California College of the Arts Expanding its Canvas

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California College of the Arts (CCA) students will soon get a respite from San Francisco’s high-priced housing market. The Panoramic, located at 1321 Mission Street, is set to open in August, and will house around 200 artists-in-training. Half of the 160-unit complex will be set aside for CCA students, with the other half dedicated to Conservatory of Music undergraduates, according to Chris Bliss, CCA vice president of communications.

Construction of the 11-story structure began in 2013. The project’s use of energy efficient materials and technologies will result in living spaces that “can even be heated by a hairdryer,” according to Patrick Kennedy, from development company Panoramic Interests. The building has no onsite parking, but will feature a car rideshare program and a bicycle storage system that can hold up to 200 bikes. The Panoramic will most likely get a Gold Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design rating, Kennedy said. 

CCA students are anxious for new housing options.  Eighty percent of freshmen live in school housing during their first year. Students can choose from six residences; the Panoramic will be the seventh.  Some living quarters are off-campus, or include non-CCA students, such as housing located on California Street.  At a cost of $5,425 a semester, The Panoramic will cater to upper classmen, transfer, and graduate students,. Overall, CCA housing costs range from around $4,000 a semester in Oakland to as high as $6,500 in San Francisco. All freshmen housing is located in Oakland.

According to 2011 CCA graduate Devin Chesterfield, “Some of the labor intensive programs at the San Francisco campus require moving around a lot of material.” Having housing closer to campus makes life easier for students.  However, Chesterfield stressed that it wasn’t particularly challenged to commute from the East Bay to San Francisco when he was a student.

Former student Michael Reyes said that new housing would be welcome, but raised concerns about culture divisions amongst the student population. According to Reyes, CCA’s Oakland and San Francisco campuses are distant from each other not only geographically, but in terms of student ethos. He felt that more affluent students living in San Francisco didn’t understand the financial burdens of their underprivileged colleagues. Reyes believes CCA is pushing to re-orient attention away from its historical Oakland site to San Francisco, as a means to raise the college’s prestige and attract students capable of paying higher tuition.

Bliss disputed the latter claim, citing that “73 percent of undergraduate students receive financial aid, and the college awards more than $20 million annually.”

Other CCA development plans haven’t been solidified. Since purchasing the old Greyhound station on Seventh Street in 2011 for $8.5 million, the college has spent three years planning for what it calls the “Back Lot.”  In 2013 CCA submitted an Institutional Master Plan (IMP) for the site to the San Francisco Planning Department, which consists of information about the school and possible approaches to campus expansion. Part of the five-year plan noted in the IMP was realized later in 2013, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed section 249.67 of ordinance 111278, which paves the way for future development of the Back Lot, allowing CCA to construct a mixed-use building, including housing for up to 750 students.

CCA is in the “middle of long-range campus planning process, working with [architectural firm] Gensler,” Bliss explained. Nothing significant is likely to be constructed in the Back Lot for at least two years.  “We will need to complete the plan before any decisions are made for permanent structures on the Back Lot,” said Bliss. In the meantime, the area is being used as a vegetable garden, recycling center, and recreational grounds for students.

In addition, the Back Lot hosts public activities, including a block party this month and a fashion show in May. Bliss hopes that CCA can increase its engagement with nearby neighborhoods through these events. “The fashion show fundraiser is one of the few public events that costs money, so around 90 percent of our public activities on campus are free,” Bliss explained.  Other public events at CCA include lectures, art exhibits, and readings.

Since moving to San Francisco in 1996 CCA has been a boon for local businesses. According to a Thee Parkside bartender, CCA students and faculty visit the establishment daily, occasionally hosting large gatherings.  CCA also played a role in keeping the art supply store ARCH in the neighborhood.  ARCH was evicted from its Missouri Street location last year. Since then, the retailer has found a temporary space on Third Street, and an outpost at the college.  According to ARCH manager Mac Warrick, the store originally moved to Potrero Hill because of CCA; being forced out of the community would have made it difficult for students to acquire the materials they need.