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McCone Hall
Challenging Retrofit and Renovation Nears Completion

By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Posted April 28, 1999


Melvin Dixon, project manager for McCone Hall's renovation, enjoys the view from the (unfinished) fifth-floor balcony. Peg Skorpinski photo.

Melvin Dixon is the fifth project manager for the ill-fated seismic retrofit and renovation of McCone Hall, formerly the Earth Sciences Building, and he plans on being the last.

"I'm going to have everyone moved in in time for fall semester," he vows.

During the $15 million project, staff and faculty in the departments of Geology and Geophysics, Geography, the Seismological Laboratory and the Earth Sciences Library continued to work in most of the building. (The Paleontology Museum escaped to the Valley Life Sciences Building.)

Kevin Kaier, MSO for geology and geophysics, describes working in McCone under construction as "a nightmare. I'd be hard-pressed to say what was worse -- the noise, the dust, the construction going on all around us, including welding, the sudden shut-offs of water, heat and power. Computer drives were contaminated with concrete dust, equipment had to be re-calibrated because of the vibration -- we couldn't hear ourselves think!"

The library and some staff and faculty were transferred to the Wellman Courtyard trailers. Several faculty had to set up labs in other locations, including the Richmond Field Station, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Space Sciences Lab and even in a private rental space on Shattuck Avenue.

"I thought the Dwinelle addition was the most difficult project I'd ever had, until I got McCone in October," says Dixon, who has been with Planning, Design and Construction for 24 years. "It's always difficult to do construction with people in the building, but the staff and faculty at McCone have been great to work with."

Started in 1993 but abandoned in 1994 due to design problems, the McCone project was restarted two years ago and is now nine months behind schedule, according to Dixon. The $6 million seismic retrofit is being funded by the state, while the $9 million renovation is primarily a gift from the McCone Foundation.

The top two floors of McCone are still very much hard hat areas, but the first four floors are settling in.

"We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel," says Kaier. "The labs are up and running and we were able to hold classes here this semester for the first time in a year."

The seismological lab moved into its new second-floor digs in January -- the first time all the staff have been in one place. The lab's engineers have had to move three times in the past three years.

"This is a big improvement over the [Wellman] trailer park, but it's been traumatic," says seismologist Lind Gee. Malfunctioning air conditioners nearly ruined the lab's half-million dollar computer system in January, which would have crippled its ability to fulfill a crucial operational role: notifying the state about earthquakes.

"The faculty are thrilled to be back in McCone," says Dixon, "especially now that the library has moved back in on the ground floor. They're almost dancing in the halls."


April 28 - May 4, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 32)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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