College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Floating apartments and other wild ideas

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, February 16, 2023 - 4:32pm

When the kids were little, we were always careful when we talked about fun activities or summer trips we might want to do. We had these talks out of earshot or used parent codewords. We didn’t want to get the children’s hopes up if we were talking about some idea that wasn’t likely to happen, and we didn’t want them to be confused about what was actually planned vs. things in “maybe someday” status.

A colleague at Cal Poly Humboldt reminded me of this dynamic as we threw out more and more “wild” ideas a few years ago in an effort to not only address campus challenges, but also on- and off-campus housing. It was a shorthanded way of saying that not all ideas, especially the unexpected ones, should be shared broadly until we looked into them more.

At the time, some of these ideas seemed beyond wild.

• What if we created more online classes?

• If we ask and are permitted, do you think we could become a polytechnic?

• We will need more housing. Maybe some developers could help us build on their land.

• If we buy the Craftsman Mall site, could we build needed housing there faster at some point?

• Why have a bookstore in one of the hardest places to get to? What if we had one on the Plaza in Arcata and in Old Town Eureka, closer to the community and students?

• If we relocate some administrative offices, maybe we could create more student space in Nelson Hall and the SAC on the top floor.

• Speaking of the SAC, we should try to name more things in partnership with the tribes. Let’s ask the Wiyot Tribe if we could name the SAC (now the Gutswurrak Student Activities Center).

• We do so well in writing grants, what if we tried to write even more, providing even more resources for a cash-strapped campus?

• What if we considered holding a commencement in Los Angeles or the Bay Area so families wouldn’t have to make the expensive trip to this area to see their student graduate?

• Could we partner with College of the Redwoods and health care organizations to create a HUB to grow our workforce from within?

• How could the new subsea cable be leveraged for much faster internet on campus and across the region?

• There are no apartments for sale and only so much land. It takes a long time to build. Are there ways that could deliver more temporary beds to the community?

• The government never funds new programs. But we could ask.

Many of the ideas being considered were just exploratory and certainly weren’t ready for broader discussions … until one day they were.

At Cal Poly Humboldt, we have different teams of people exploring all kinds of ideas, partnerships, funding opportunities, and more. Some of them are pretty straightforward and are just a matter of finding the time and resources to make them a priority. Others, well, others can be considered pretty different from our current perspective.

One idea is routing students through other regional universities; such as taking some initial courses at another campus instead of Humboldt. A few years ago, we were the ones offering space to students from other crowded campuses in the CSU.

I suppose “different” is what many think of the idea of floating apartments and studios to serve as temporary student housing. As a campus we have many things to consider and have had a team looking at it for months. At first the question was, how can we get more housing in an area that has very little? And this wouldn’t just be housing for campus, but potentially for the College of the Redwoods, the hospitals’ workforces, and others. A cruise ship was discussed, but the cost and small rooms made it not possible at the time. A barge with floating apartments, often used for workforce across the globe, emerged from exploring the cruise ship idea. How does one bring floating apartments to the Eureka harbor? Cruise ships have been here, but temporary floating residences for 600+ people? Maybe that will happen, and maybe it won’t. What’s important is that we are always preparing and trying to think far outside of the box for solutions.

The truth is, if only… If only we had built a few years or a few decades ago. If only the original developer had been successful in building their proposed project at Craftsman Mall a few years back. If only building apartments in the area was easier to do. If only the infrastructure needed for these major projects were here already. As it turns out, we can’t go back and fix “if only.”

Cal Poly Humboldt today has about 5,800 students. At our peak in 2014-15 we had 8,500 students and still only 2,000 housing spaces on-campus. While it is likely we will not be that large this fall semester, there are many ideas around housing. One idea is to ask alumni, supporters, and other local residents to open their homes to students. This campus was founded more than 100 years ago on the generosity of this community, and students stayed in local homes long before there was any on-campus housing.

Every day this campus is provided with several challenges to overcome, and we work the challenges in search for viable solutions. Many solutions will evolve over the coming months, well before the fall semester begins six months from now. It is the same thing we teach our students.

Nearly all of the wild ideas involve many individuals on campus and in the community. If they come to fruition, the implementation can easily be far outside the norm for this campus and community. Yet we must try. Just like our students, we are engaged in hands-on learning. Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.