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Under Construction: Seismic upgrading, building renovations reach all-time peak

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence

It's bound to be a little dusty and noisy this year with campus construction at an all-time high. Approximately $235 million worth of building renovations, seismic upgrading, new facilities, walkways, bike paths and landscaping projects will be under way, keeping everyone on their toes.

  Barrows Hall
Barrows Hall is all wrapped up in scaffolding as part of a seismic retrofit project. Scenes like this are more likely on campus in the next few years as a major infrastructure development effort gets under way. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Berkeley's facelift, which promises to restore and upgrade the aging campus, is in full swing. About 1 million square feet of space will be under construction at the beginning of the fall semester, much of it involving seismic retrofitting and state-of-the-art techniques to preserve historic buildings such as the Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

Major projects, including the Dwinelle Film Studies Theater, Doe Library, Edwards Stadium, Zellerbach Hall, McCone Hall, Haas Pavilion and the Hearst Field Annex temporary relocation quarters - all complex tasks to tackle with minimal disruption - were completed in the past year. All were accomplished under the most difficult of circumstances, in the midst of approximately 44,000 daily campus users, 6,000 cars, circuitous detours, public events and constant visitor tours.

A sizeable capital budget - currently about $515 million in public and private funding - is making all of this possible. The flagship campus of the UC system, the oldest and one of the smallest in total acreage, now expects about 900 construction workers on campus each day by early 2001.

"This work is critical to sustaining the preeminence of our faculty and supporting the extraordinary work they do as we educate the very best students of each generation," said Chancellor Robert Berdahl. "The campus is aging, and it is vul-nerable to serious damage from an earthquake. Those reasons alone are driving us to improve the usefulness of our laboratories, upgrade our classrooms and address the very real issue of seismic safety."

Seismic retrofitting is one of Berkeley's top priorities, since the campus sits on top of the Hayward fault. But a backlog of deferred maintenance projects, aimed at modernizing outdated buildings and adding the necessary infrastructure - whether it be a new underground fiber optic cable system for voice, data and video communication or upgrading the university's steam and water distribution systems - is also a priority.

"We have the rare opportunity right now to replace and renew major facilities and to build new structures that will affect the life of the campus over the next 100 years," said Edward Denton, vice chancellor of capital projects. "Our office is putting the tools in place to ensure that all of our projects meet quality criteria that will contribute to Berkeley's stature as a world-class center for higher education."

On the south side of campus, long known to be one of the most densely populated areas west of the Mississippi, attention to urban design and the unique needs of the area promise to transform a neighborhood of 8,000 students. A thorough planning process with the city of Berkeley, including extensive discussion with the community, is about to come to fruition with the first of several new student residences and other amenities, Denton said.

The construction for the first phase of new apartment-style housing for 113 upper-division students, to be built at College and Durant avenues, would begin in June 2001, following approval by the UC Regents. Subsequent projects on Channing Way and within Units 1 and 2 include housing for an additional 725 students. A new parking structure to replace a seismically unsafe one, which was the campus's biggest parking structure until it was torn down in 1993, is planned for 2005-6, with an innovatively designed playing field on top to give students recreational facilities and open space.

Life-safety renovations on campus are moving forward as well. Refurbishing of the venerable Hearst Memorial Mining Building, considered the crown jewel of the Berkeley campus, represents a marvel of engineering wizardry and technological craftsmanship. The preservation project melds a bold approach to seismic improvement with historic design considerations: the building is being freed from its foundations and placed on a system of isolators so that it will move horizontally, as a whole, during an earthquake.

Federal Emergency Management Agency funding has allowed the university to begin seismic overhauls of four major academic buildings - Barrows, Hildebrand and Latimer Halls and Silver Lab. Two of them - Silver Lab and Barrows Hall - are under construction, with Latimer and Hildebrand to follow in the next several months.

In addition, the 1997 SAFER (Seismic Action Plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal) program has identified the need for more than $1 billion for seismic upgrading over the next 20 years. That program will keep a variety of construction projects going year-round.

Campus construction is guided by a Long Range Development Plan, updated every 10 to 15 years, which sets out the proposed physical development of the campus, including its off-campus properties.

According to Principal Planner Jennifer Lawrence, an update to the plan, expected to be completed in the winter of 2002, will provide the campus and community with a broad vision of the total amount and general nature of development expected to take place during the planning horizon of 2005-15. The plan will also provide an understanding of the environmental impacts associated with that development.

This time around, long-range physical planning will be guided by a programmatic vision for the future and set forth in a new overall strategic blueprint known as the New Century Plan.

"The plan expands upon the opportunity presented by our seismic safety program to anticipate future academic needs, address the quality of student life, and improve access between the campus and the community," she said. "Not since 1898, when Berkeley's great benefactor, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, sponsored the international competition to guide campus growth, have we undertaken an integrated effort of this magnitude."

As earthquake safety work progresses, planners have recognized that the campus can use its funds more efficiently by addressing the need for temporary space in the aggregate. While buildings are refurbished and laboratories reconfigured for highly specialized research, staff, faculty and students are using the new Hearst Field Annex. A second interim relocation center, called Seismic Replacement Building 1, located on the south end of the Oxford Tract, is slated for 2001, pending Regents' approval.

"The drive for creativity and flexibility in the use of space is an ongoing challenge," Denton said. "We've created a lot of strategies for managing building closures, interim relocation requirements, traffic and accessibility during periods of heavy construction.

"We've garnered $42 million in FEMA grants for seismic retrofitting, built several new scientific laboratories, replaced 50-year-old graduate student housing with new apartments and refurbished many of Berkeley's architectural treasures," he said. "We do a lot extremely well, but we can't rest on our laurels. There's a lot that still needs to be done to meet the needs of the next century."

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence home

Source: Berkeleyan Special Issue, Fall 2000