University Building Plan Expo Draws Public, Jocks, Officials, By: Richard Brenneman

Friday March 17, 2006

UC Berkeley officials, athletes and contractors staged a full-court press at Memorial Stadium Monday, offering soft drinks and cookies along with the reasons they said everyone should support their massive building plans around the aging facility. 

Wheth er or not it worked remains an open question. 

The university is scheduled to unveil an environmental impact report on the project in May, which will offer new details about the school’s plans for what could total nearly a half-billion dollars in new cons truction. 

Three new major structures are proposed, along with massive alterations to Memorial Stadium, an aging concrete edifice built directly atop the Hayward Fault—the fissure U.S. geologists say is most likely to rupture in the years ahead. 

One of t he new structures, a monumental athletic training center, is separated from the stadium by only a five-foot gap, and a second structure—a five-level mostly subterranean parking structure northwest of the stadium—directly borders the fault. 

The third edif ice, a stair-stepped “Law and Business Connection” building, is farthest from the rupture, located directly across Piedmont Avenue from the stadium. 

On hand to answer questions about earthquakes was David Friedman, a structural engineer from Forell/Elses ser Engineers, Inc., a San Francisco firm working on the project. “We’re planning for the worst case scenario with the stadium,” he said, which would include up to six feet of horizontal movement along the two sides of the fault, two feet of vertical move ment. 

Friedman also noted that the planned press box, topped by another level of luxury sky boxes for deep-pocket fans, would rise as much as 28 feet above the stadium rim. That bothered preservationist John English, who pointed to the university’s own 1 999 Historic Structures Report conducted by an Emeryville consulting firm that concluded no additions should extend above the stadium rim. 

“But it’s going to be much more open and translucent than the old press box,” said Joseph Dienko of HNTB Architectu re, one of the firms involved in the project. 

Friedman, Dienko and the other official representatives staffed tables featuring hand-out sheets and foam-core-mounted graphics and charts. And for the sports buffs who weren’t already dazzled by the rows and cases of trophies in the Hall of Fame Room where the gathering was held, there were also real, live members of the Cal Bears gridiron crew, smiling pleasantly and eager to describe how the project would benefit them and their fellow athletes. 

“Any quest ions?” asked quarterback Nathan Longshore. “We’re glad to help,” added linebacker Greg Van Hoesen.  

“We will take out everything from the outer walls until you hit the grandstand,” said Harrison Fraker, the Dean of the university’s College of Environment al Design and the chair of the university Design Review Committee that will approve the stadium plans. “It will be wonderful.”  

The training facilities now housed within  

the cramped confines of the stadium’s interior will be relocated in a 132,500-squar e-foot Student Athlete High Performance Center, the first of the new structures slated for construction, and the stadium itself will be refurbished for seismic safety and spectator comfort. 

The training center will be built along the stadium’s western wa ll, separated from the older structure by a five-foot gap designed to keep the structures separate in event of a temblor. 

And if the need for the center was in doubt, there were colorful charts showing how Cal athletes are short-changed for training spac e compared with their Pac 10 rivals. Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman, himself a former Bears gridiron star, laughed at the charts. “Wait till I can start doing an analysis,” he said, smiling as his pen flew over the handout sheet. 

Angel L. McDonald o f Horton Lee Brogden Lighting Design was on hand with charts and answers about the new permanent night lighting planned for the stadium, a sore point with neighbors who live on Panoramic Hill, recently enrolled as a nationally landmarked neighborhood in p art because of residents’ opposition to the expansion plans. 

“It’s far worse than I thought,” said Janice Thomas, a Panoramic Hill neighbor instrumental on the landmarking efforts. “Now I see that they’re adding a cooling tower in the south stadium parking lot that will bring even more noise. There’s been no give. I’m stunned, like a deer caught in the headlights.” 

Another Panoramic Hill resident who declined to give her name for fear of upsetting Thomas and other fellow neighbors, said she thought the university had shown some sensitivity to their concerns. “It’s better than I thought it would be, but they still shouldn’t be building on top of a fault. But then they’re going to do it, so maybe this is the best we can hope for.” 

Monday evening’s agenda also included walking tours of the stadium—both to view dry rot and termite-eaten seats in need of replacement and to see the far from deluxe interior accommodations accorded the needs of the university’s athletes and the throngs of fans who come for eve nts like the fabled Big Game against the Stanford Cardinals. 

Bob Milano, the ever-smiling assistant financial director for capital planning and management, even offered both genders in his tour group a glimpse of a women’s bathroom, little changed from w hen the stadium first opened for games in 1923. 

He also pointed to the gap in the stadium’s southern rim that is designed to accommodate movement along that pesky fault. A matching gap is found at the opposite end of the stadium. 

Athletic equipment mana ger Ed Garland escorted the curious through the laundry room—festooned with the corporate banners of ABC, Nike and TBS—and upstairs to the room and its array of stacked and racked athletic gear ranging from extra football helmet face guards to size 17 ins oles. 

City of Berkeley Planning Commissioner Jordan De Staebler and city Principal Planner Allan Gatzke accompanied Milano’s group. Other Berkeley city officials who attended Monday’s gathering included City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, Planning Commiss ioner Mike Sheen, Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Steven Winkel and Disaster Commission member Jesse Townley. 

The public’s next opportunity to offer on-the-record comments about the massive building plans will come in May, when the university release the draft environmental impact report on the combined projects. Comments will be taken for consideration in the final document for 45 days after the draft’s release..z