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UC Berkeley releases draft EIR on state-of-the-art, seismically secure science and technology buildings
20 June 2001

By Marie Felde

Berkeley - Construction noise and the loss of tennis courts and a skateboarding area were identified as the significant, unavoidable environmental impacts associated with building new health sciences and technology research facilities at the University of California, Berkeley, according to a draft environmental impact report released by the campus this week.

The campus proposes to replace two outdated and seismically poor research buildings - Stanley Hall and old Davis Hall - with modern, safe structures in the northeast area of the campus. The proposed new buildings will house interdisciplinary research in the health sciences, bioengineering, and information technology.

The largest of the two, the replacement for Stanley Hall, is being built to include innovations such as vibration-free rooms for high-powered imaging machines and 21st century laboratories to aid physicists, chemists, engineers and biologists in the understanding and treatment of cancer, brain and spinal cord injuries, and genetic and infectious diseases. It also provides students with learning opportunities in the most up-to-date labs.

Additionally, the campus plans to seismically retrofit three other buildings and build an extension to Soda Hall, the computer sciences building.

The two-volume draft EIR was prepared to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. It evaluates the impact on the environment of construction and on-going operation of the proposed research facilities and seismic upgrades. It also outlines mitigation measures to address impacts, including truck traffic, water runoff and construction noise.

Taken as whole, the new facilities will add 325,000 square feet of research, teaching and office space to the campus. Generally, the new facilities will house existing staff members. But, over time, approximately 400 new employees will be added to the campus's full-time population.

The demolition and replacement of Stanley Hall, a five-story building that opened in 1952 and is rated seismically poor, would become home to the campus's far-reaching Health Sciences Initiative.

The replacement building has been engineered for seismic safety and would rise seven stories above ground at its highest, with three floors below grade. It will provide four times the research space of the current building.

The other major construction project is the proposed replacement of old Davis Hall, a 1930s-era building. It would become home to the new Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, known as CITRIS.

Demolition and construction of each building is expected to take up to three years. Planning and design work is farthest along for the health sciences building. It is estimated to cost $153 million to $177 million. The CITRIS building is still in the conceptual stage and with a cost estimated at $120 million.

In addition, the CITRIS program calls for renovation of Cory Hall, the seismic retrofit of new Davis Hall and a seismic retrofit and preservation of the historic, brown-shingled Naval Architecture Building.

The proposal also includes the second phase of Soda Hall, the computer science building. The main building at Hearst and LeRoy avenues was completed in 1994. A smaller companion building,
known as Soda II, would add 35,000 square feet. The building with one story above ground and two underground is projected to cost $30 million.

The draft EIR identified construction-related noise and the loss of tennis courts and a skateboard area that now exist atop a campus parking structure on Hearst Avenue as the only significant, unavoidable environmental impacts of the projects. The project plan proposes to make room for more parking by replacing the courts.

Community members at public sessions held by the campus this spring expressed concerns about both noise and the loss of the courts and skateboard area. Although not now part of the plan, UC Berkeley is exploring relocating the courts to another location on or near the campus.

Also of concern to neighbors are parking and traffic issues in neighborhoods on the north side of campus. The draft EIR identified construction truck traffic as an impact, but said that truck trips could be scheduled to avoid overlap and "reduce the significant impacts to less than significant." It estimated that during the heaviest construction periods, an additional 10 to 19 truck trips per hour would be added to north side roads, depending on which of the buildings is under construction.

Finally, the EIR found that the campus's Long Range Development Plan, which focused on the 15 years from 1990 through 2005, will need to be amended because the new projects would raise the total square footage of buildings on the campus beyond what was envisioned. A full update of the long-range plan to guide planning beyond 2005 is now in progress.

Copies of the draft EIR are available at the UC Berkeley Physical & Environmental Planning Office in Room 300, 1936 University Ave., Berkeley. Copies are also available for review at the downtown branch of the Berkeley Public Library, 2121 Allston Way.

A public hearing on the draft EIR is scheduled for Monday, July 9,
at 105 North Gate Hall, near the corner of Hearst and Euclid avenues, at UC Berkeley. The hearing will run from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The University of California Board of Regents, which must certify the EIR before approving any construction, is expected to take up the matter in the fall. If approved, the earliest construction could begin would be in 2002, with completion possible in 2005.