Was UC Berkeley’s Thursday night public “scoping session” to help prepare an environmental review of its massive development plans at and around Memorial Stadium a meaningless gesture?
Maybe so, judging from comments by Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks and others at a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) meeting four days earlier.
During the Monday meeting, Marks told commissioners that for scoping comments to have any impact at all, they needed to come at the conceptual design phase, before the project entered the schematic design phase, which means that the building specifications have been decided.
“By the time it’s in schematics, it’s done,” said Marks.
Marks was one of about 50 who showed up for the Thursday night scoping session, during which Robert DeLiso, vice president of URS Corporation and project manager for the expansion, announced that the two most significant projects had gone into schematic design that day.
Those projects are the $125 million seismic retrofit and addition of a 132,500-square-foot Student Athlete High Performance Center to Memorial Stadium and a $140 million to $160 million academic commons building for the university’s Boalt Hall law school and the Haas School of Business.
The third major project in the package is a $60 million underground parking lot to be built at the site of Maxwell Family Field northwest of the stadium, bringing the total costs to over a third of a billion dollars—all of which is to come from private donors.
“It is not appropriate to go to schematics before the university has shared its intentions with the community,” Marks said Monday. “The designs we’ve seen to date are far from adequate. To hear that they’re moving to schematic designs is distressing.”
Marks said he would present a report on the scoping session and its implications at tonight’s (Tuesday’s) City Council meeting.
Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Lesley Emmington made a motion at Monday’s LPC meeting to ask the university to submit conceptual designs to the commission, which is concerned about historic structures scheduled for demolition in the project.
On learning that plans were already moving into schematics, Emmington said, “That’s unfortunate. We’re kind of scrambling at square one when they’re already on square ten.”
Thursday’s scoping session answered another question about renovation plans for Memorial Stadium itself.
During a Nov. 10 press conference by UCB Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and other university officials unveiling the project plans, university officials said they weren’t sure when asked if the three-story, above-the-rim addition to Memorial Stadium shown in plans would include a layer to so-called luxury sky boxes.
There was no such ambiguity Thursday night, when DeLiso confirmed that one level will include enclosed “premium” seating—that is, sky boxes.
The deluxe amenities, which often include bar fixtures, restrooms, luxury seats and other amenities, are considered major revenue generators and are often booked by corporations and business people seeking to impress clients.
Not included in the EIR project area was another business school project, the development of an executive education facility designed to offer non-degree programs for business executives.
According to a call for a project executive architect posted on the university’s website, the school is looking at two sites—one of them Bowles Hall, which is located just across Stadium Rim Way from the Maxwell Family Field, site of the planned underground parking garage.
Bowles was the first residence hall on campus and opened in 1929. If chosen, the structure would be renovated and might include new construction on the adjacent parking lot.
Designed by architect George W. Kelham, the structure is both a City of Berkeley landmark and a structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The second site under consideration is the Anna Head Complex (the former Anna Head School) and next-door parking lot, located in the city on university-owned land three blocks south of the campus between Durant Avenue on the north and Channing Way on the south and between Telegraph Avenue and Bowditch Street.
If selected, new construction would be built on the large parking lot, and the project could also include conversion and renovation of some or all of the existing buildings on the site.
John Edginton, a Berkeley resident who lived in Bowles Hall for four years before he graduated in 1957, and later went on to graduate from Boalt Hall, said he’d like to see the hall restored to its original purpose as a four-year residential facility for undergraduates.
“I found it a wonderfully rewarding experience, with lots of camaraderie,” he said. Edginton acknowledged that there have been disciplinary problems in later years.
The university restricted the hall to freshman-year residents only for the current academic year, but Edginton and other former Bowles residents have created an alumni association, which they hope will help mentor residents and minimize the problems.
Ideally, he said, he would like to see the landmark structure restored to its original purpose, as a four-year residence hall where beginning students could learn from upper-class folk in a self-governing and congenial atmosphere.