Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Cage for Dinosaurs

Meditations on Construction and Change at AVC

In search of good news and a quiet place to walk, on a recent Saturday I spent some time enjoying the progress our bond-funded construction is making on main campus, and was thinking too about the possibilities for our Palmdale site.

Things are changing fast on campus, and it’s not all just pay cuts and cancelled classes. It seems like only yesterday when I took AVC journalism students on a “how to shoot” tour of the new Theatre Arts complex. At that time, the site was mostly scraped up dirt, bundled piles of rebar, and abundant hope.

Time passes—welders weld, bolters bolt, and the magic happens. Now, finally, as anybody driving west along Ave. K will have noticed, we are close to thinking about the grand opening.

I can’t wait to go to the first performances. As fond as I am of hearing the LA Phil inside the Disney Concert Hall or going to plays done by Glendale’s (soon to be Pasadena’s) Noise Within, the fact is, AVC’s Visual and Performing Arts faculty and students provide world-class performances, often for less than the price of two fancy coffees at Starbucks.Here is a shot of Test Flight (our student rock band) as well as the Antelope Valley Symphony as conducted by Dr. David Newby, with background images provided by JPL. We will learn more about the symphony in another post, as we think about the great American poet, Walt Whitman. Here are the arts in action:

On another side of campus, a new science complex rises from the dirt. Here is a “then” shot (wasn’t this just a year ago?), versus a few “now” shots, from today.

Of course, some projects now have reached the “ready to move in” phase. Have a look around the tech ed and greenhouse areas on the north side of campus next time you have a moment to spare. There is even an allusion to a scene from Jurassic Park.

One bit of construction that has already come and gone was carried out (without permit or permission!) by our resident owls, who successfully nested and raised young again this year. Their nest is no longer required: Junior is already so large he is out of the nest (or it could be a she; at this age, there is no way to tell them apart visually), and now has almost fully fledged.

He (or she) waits to start hunting actively, and for now, sleeps near the library during the day, a parent usually protectively roosting nearby. Here is the juvenile.

It is easy to find our owls during the daytime. Just look for their cast-up pellets. These are small, cylindrical wads of fur and bone that the owls cough up because they cannot pass some material through their digestive systems. Look around the grass under the big pine trees for a scattering of owl pellets, then, when you find some, look up. One or two owls are probably right over your head, looking back down at you.

The pellets themselves reveal what the owls have been having for dinner. It is okay to touch these, and to let kids touch them too. You can just pull them apart with your fingers and see what the bones have to tell us. Great Horned Owls eat rats, mice, rabbits, domestic cats, skunks, and even scorpions. In their detritus you can find tiny mice teeth or itty bitty vertebrae. If you come across some of the pellets under one of the campus trees, it is okay to pull them apart to see what drama has been going on during the swing shift. (Just be sure to wash your hands afterward, and don’t lick your fingers until you’ve cleaned up.)

If you want to play CSI, that’s fun too: just bag and tag, then do a home dissection with tweezers and rubber gloves. It is more fun than watching tv (as most things in nature are).

These nests and buildings so far all have been from the main Lancaster Campus, but what is happening in Palmdale? The District still owns a lovely piece of vacant property near Pearblossom Highway and 25th East.

Times are hard. We all know this: the State may not be bankrupt, but it’s no longer in the “building colleges” business. Our current bond money—generously supplied by District voters—cannot be diverted to Palmdale, even if we wanted to. (And we have to finish the current projects first, anyway.) A new, stand-alone Palmdale campus won’t be breaking ground any time soon. But that is not to say it will not come. When the main campus was started at its present site of 30th and K in Lancaster, prevailing comments (I am told) went along the lines of, “whad’a building it out there fer?” It seemed utter folly. Roads were not even paved this far away from town. The west side wasn’t a side, it was just jackrabbits and dust devils.

But times change—buildings are planned and built; trees grow tall and owls make homes in them. There will be a Palmdale campus. Maybe not this year or even the one after next, but it will come. (And to be accurate: we do have a Palmdale campus; we just do not have a Palmdale separate dedicated site for the Center that now exists.) Funding will be an issue, but then it always is (and always has been). Maybe R. Rex Parris will donate the money, if we promise to name it after him.

One issue for people to dream about is, when it comes, what do we want our next college campus to look like? At times I am deeply fond of the Lancaster campus, with its stamped sheet metal sun-shades (what were they thinking?) and its trees leaning 45 degrees off axis. But when we think ahead to the next incarnation of AVC, what should it be?

While I am sure the Office of the State Architect will have various requirements for us, and while we will want to include restrooms and parking lots and soccer fields and maybe even a drive-thru bank, speaking just for myself, I already know what the next installment of AVC should look like.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Antelope Valley constituencies, may I present to you the new and improved AVC, the Palmdale Campus during its grand opening, 2021:

Instead of being a dirt lot off of 25th East, the Palmdale campus will be the hip place to see and be seen. All of the up and coming local bands will want to jam at the opening, and the mayors of Palmdale and Lancaster will give three speeches each. Rich Sim will still be the most senior faculty member still serving, and the art buildings (the ones we don’t name after Rex Parris) will be named for him.

See you there! (Just don’t forget to put a parking sticker on your space ship on your way to class....)

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