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From Concrete Jungle To Vital Campus Center

Planners Hope to Breathe Life into Lower Sproul Plaza

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted March 15, 2000

Imagine Lower Sproul Plaza as an active and friendly information center, as efficient as the entrance to Disneyland, or sleek and sophisticated as New York City's Lincoln Center.

Such visions of grandeur -- offered by town hall meeting participants last fall -- are being taken seriously by campus planners seeking to transform the high-traffic but aesthetically impaired parcel.

One thing for sure -- Lower Sproul Plaza needs help. Eshleman Hall is rated seismically poor. The student union and Chavez Center are in need of deferred maintenance. The open space bordered by those buildings and Zellerbach Hall is underutilized. Its program and retail venues are hidden from view and difficult to access.

"The area does not reflect the world-class ranking the campus enjoys," said Heather Hood, an associate planner for Physical and Environmental Planning. "We would like to see the Lower Sproul complex be revitalized into a hub for student life and the campus community."

To accomplish this goal, Hood and others are embarking on the Lower Sproul Revitalization Project. The impetus for the plan was to address the poor structural conditions and deferred maintenance of the surrounding buildings. But the campus also saw an opportunity to look at the whole area and develop ideas for improving both its looks and how it functions as a public space.

Goals for the plan include correcting seismic problems; improving student access to services and programs, such as the Career Center and Academic Achievement Division; and creating an inviting connection between the campus and community. Both design and programming considerations are being weighed.

The project kicked off late last fall with three town hall meetings for students, staff and community members. Participants offered abundant feedback on what they like and don't like about the space, and they designed postcards depicting what a new and improved plaza might look like.

One of the most complex problems is deciding which programs will have a presence in the area.

People have offered a wealth of ideas about what they'd like to see on Lower Sproul -- including art gallery space, a wheelchair repair shop, computer labs and child care as well as satellite posts for Parking and Transportation, housing and the campus police -- all in addition to the multitude of programs already housed there.

But there isn't room to implement all these ideas, Hood notes, so a careful review of potential and existing services will be made before any changes are made.

"We want to have a complete understanding of what the needs are for users of this area," said programming consultant Bill Glass. "We want to meet with key current and potential stakeholders to determine what folks want to see here."

Glass is meeting with stakeholders this month, and will use information gleaned to develop charts and diagrams of programming alternatives. Conceptual designs will be produced in May.

In the meantime, the campus is exploring financing strategies. Possible sources include student fees, deferred maintenance money, seismic funds, donor funds, and corporate partnerships. A more refined financial, design and programming vision of the plan will be presented to the campus in fall 2000.

The project will serve as a case study for similar New Century Plan-upgrades of the west campus entrance and interdisciplinary studies in the northeast corner of campus.

Upcoming New Century Plan community workshops offer an opportunity to give input on the Lower Sproul Revitalization Study. Workshops are scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, April 3 and Monday, May 8 in Alumni House. For information, visit the Lower Sproul Web site at (uga.berkeley. edu/lowersproul).



March 15-21, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 25)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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