While most colleges and universities struggle in the face of deep budget cuts and faculty layoffs, little St. Mary's College of Moraga is re-hiring lecturers laid off at the height of the recession in order to accommodate 680 incoming freshman – the largest single admission of new students in school history.
School officials are busy modifying their dorms to make room for the new arrivals, as a KGO camera crew saw when they rolled onto the campus Wednesday, and some of the first arrivals are making their way around town, getting the lay of the land.
Town officials have expressed hope that the new arrivals will mean more trade for local businesses in need of an economic shot in the arm, but some local merchants have said privately that even with the added number of mouths and wallets in town the spending habits of college students are so specific that they're not likely to see any benefit.
One local business owner said she hadn't even heard about the new arrivals.
"I, frankly, have not even heard about this," Roos Pal, owner of Terzettos Cuisine in Moraga, said Thursday. "We have tried to work with the college in the past, but I've heard nothing about more students coming and haven't planned anything, yet."
And at nearby Bianca's Deli, which in the course of its workday derives 60 percent of its business from St. Mary's students, worker Helen Krenn said she also had not heard about the incoming tide. She said she was sure she'd be making a lot of their favorite sandwiches – the legendary "grilled chicken and jack."
"I guess we will be very busy," Helen said. "It will make Marcy and Bill (Shelden, the owners) happy."
A worker at the 7-Eleven on Moraga Road shrugged off the news of more Gaels than ever in Moraga and environs.
"If it's true, I guess we'll be selling a whole lot more beer," he said.
Possible downsides to the arrival of more kids in town could mean an increased demand on police services, an even tougher job market for local youths hoping to pick up a minimum wage job at a time when those are in short supply, and increases in traffic and noise for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Although faced with a steady number of thefts at the college last year - mostly of high-priced computer and telephonic equipment - Moraga Police Chief Robert Priebe said it will be "business as usual" when classes resume.
"We are always willing to work with SMC at orientation or anything similar," the chief added.
The college, however, has steadfastly maintained that it will continue to be "a good neighbor" and do whatever it can to accommodate both its students and the community in which they live and learn.