Ed Roberts Campus On Way To Becoming a Reality

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 11, 2008 - 09:43:00 AM

The east parking lot of the Ashby BART reopened last week for a couple of hours to give birth to a vision. 

Closed for construction for over two weeks, the site’s Woolsey and Tremont street entrance turned festive Thursday when city officials and community members gathered to break ground for the Ed Roberts Campus, which is scheduled to become a reality within 18 months. 

Described as the nation’s first universally designed transit-oriented development, the $45 million campus will serve the disability community and their families, around 300 of whom turned up to share in the excitement of the groundbreaking. 

“It’s a really amazing accomplishment, something we have always dreamed about,” said Dmitri Belzer, president of the Ed Roberts Campus. “We are breaking ground today but this is a community that has broken ground in so many things—education, healthcare and disability rights to name a few. Ed Roberts Campus will become a symbol for the disability community in the U.S. I am looking forward to the day when we move in and have access to all the different agencies.” 

The result of years of hard work by many disability organizations, the Ed Roberts Campus is a two-story, 86,057-square-foot building planned for 3075 Adeline St. It will include about a dozen nonprofits, child development and fitness centers, a cafe, braille maps and spacious elevators, complete with a spiral ramp—inspired by the one at the Guggenheim Museum in New York—winding all the way up to the second floor. 

For some disability rights advocates, the Ed Roberts Campus promises to provide a sense of community—a place where they can share a cup of coffee with friends or learn about advancements in disability policy. 

“I have been involved with the project for 10 years and it’s one of the most amazing projects in concept and execution,” said Josh Miele, who lost one of his eyes after getting severely burned as a child. “Things are going to happen in the disability community that have not happened before. It’s going to bring people from diverse backgrounds together in one place.” 

Others at the event described the campus as a model for the future. 

“Look at all the collaboration that will be possible, the synergy around disability policy and technology,” said Jan Garrett, executive director of the Center for Independent Living. “I am really excited about the ramp, it’s a beautiful piece of architecture which will also serve a very important purpose.” 

Bill Leddy of San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the firm that designed the campus, said, “The ramp will give universal access, regardless of a person’s disability level,” he said. 

“We want people to use the building in an equitable way and avoid any kind of awkward movements,” he said. “The key element for this project was a building with a civic presence, not just an office building.” 

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary and co-author of the American Disabilities Act Norman Mineta said the project would receive attention from all over the world.  

“We will be here quite a bit when it opens,” said Cecilie Rose, a project manager with MIG Architects—the firm which designed the landscaping for the Ed Roberts Campus. “It will be the heart of the disabled community. There are always extra challenges being disabled, but this promises to be a vibrant place where we can hopefully overcome those challenges. I have been waiting for this for over a decade.”