Helios Builder Sought, Public Meetings Set

By Richard Brenneman
Monday October 05, 2009 - 05:37:00 PM

UC Berkeley wants bidders for its first major downtown construction project in the city center, the Helios Energy Research Facility, with the contract to be awarded Oct. 15. 

The 112,800-square-foot building will be built on part of the site now occupied by the old state Department of Public Health building, just across Oxford Street from the main university campus. 

Estimated cost of the high-tech lab building is $85 million. 

The building will house both public and corporate research labs, with much of the work funded by the controversial $500 million grant from BP, formerly known as British Petroleum. 

The project will occupy the northeast corner of the long block between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue between Berkeley Way and Hearst Avenue. 

While the existing and privately owned Berkeleyan apartments will remain on the site’s southeast corner, the remainder of the existing buildings are scheduled for demolition.  

The largest portion of the extended block is slated for the future development of the university’s Community Health Campus, which originally had been projected to occupy the whole site now occupied by the former state office building. 

Construction at the site will be the first major development under the university’s plans to build a total of 850,000 square feet of new off-campus construction in downtown Berkeley. 

That extensive building program sparked the lawsuit that resulted in the much-revised Downtown Area Plan, which is currently on hold after opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the version finally adopted by the Berkeley City Council. 

University officials will discuss their plans for the Helios building, as well as research to be conducted there, during a public information session Thursday, Oct. 8, during a 90-minute session that begins at 7 p.m. 

The session will be held in Pat Brown’s Grille in the Genetics and Plant Biology building, located on campus just east of the intersection of Oxford Street and Berkeley Way. 

UCB spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the school “expects to submit the design of” the building to the Board of Regents in January. “If they approve and give the go-ahead for construction, demolition of the existing structure at 2151 Berkeley Way is planned to begin early in early February, 2010. 

“Completion of demolition and site clearance is anticipated in June 2010. The university will fund and manage the demolition; the bid process to hire a contractor is scheduled to begin the week of Oct. 12. with construction of the new building to begin once demolition is finished.” 

If all goes as planned, the building should be ready for occupancy by the end of 2012, he said. 

The university will also brief Berkeley Planning Commissioners on the project during the Oct. 14 meeting.  

The downtown lab is one of two facilities planned for the Helios project, with a second, smaller lab set for construction at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for research on photovoltaics and electrochemical solar energy storage systems.  

Planning for that project won’t begin until a specific site has been picked, Mogulof said.