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Birgeneau announces renovation of Memorial Stadium, construction of new academic commons building

| 09 February 2005

On Thursday, Feb. 3, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced plans to renovate and seismically strengthen Memorial Stadium as the centerpiece of a sweeping new vision for the southeast corner of the Berkeley campus. The project aims to enhance and better integrate athletic and academic aspects of campus life.


Memorial Stadium, as Ansel Adams saw it in 1966. A newly announced plan to renovate the venerable bowl focuses on the opportunity to preserve its historic character while providing badly needed space for the campus’s law and business schools. The announcement sets the stage for a “determined and ambitious” fundraising effort to make the plan a reality, said Chancellor Birgeneau. (Memorial Stadium - Contemporary image from original negative by Ansel Adams, UCR/California Museum of Photography, Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection, UC Riverside)
The ambitious plan envisions three key components. First, it preserves the historic character of the grand, 82-year-old stadium and improves its seismic safety. The concept calls for using existing space below seating on the east and west rims to build modern fan amenities and state-of-the-art athletic facilities for football and a dozen other of Berkeley’s 27 varsity-sports programs.

Second, a new academic commons building serving the campus’s School of Law (Boalt Hall), the Haas School of Business, and Intercollegiate Athletics is planned across the street from the stadium, between the law and business schools.

Capping the area’s renaissance is a redesign of the Piedmont Avenue/ Gayley Road area that will transform it into an inviting environment of pedestrian plazas and landscaped open spaces. The goal is to tie together more effectively the stadium side of the road and the main campus.

“This is a smart, skillful approach that addresses all of our goals for the stadium, provides critical new facilities for law and business, and achieves our larger desire to integrate and enhance the various dimensions of students’ lives,” said Birgeneau. He noted that the plan is also consistent with the goals of UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan.

“With the basic concept now in place, we will immediately accelerate a determined and ambitious fundraising effort,” said Birgeneau. Funding for the project will come from private sources.

The first phase of fundraising is under way in what’s known as a quiet phase. The public part of the effort will follow, in which a full range of giving opportunities, including a seat-licensing campaign for the stadium, will be made available.

To move quickly on to more detailed, next-stage plans, the campus expects to have an architectural firm selected by early March; the process for selecting of a project-management consultant was expected to begin this week. It is anticipated that detailed schematic drawings will be completed and reliable cost estimates will be known by fall 2005.

Key to the concept announced last week is the flexible integration of all the elements in the plan so that each component can move forward independently from the others.

A new home for the Cal Band, the Athletic Study Center, sports medicine, and more

Components of the plan for the area include renovation of Memorial Stadium, construction of a new academic commons building, and improvements to the Piedmont Avenue/Gayley Road corridor.

A colossal undertaking, built on a flood of $5 donations

• California Memorial Stadium was named for and is dedicated to Californians, both those who had attended the university and others from across the state, who gave their lives in the “War of Nations,” now referred to as World War I.

• At the time the stadium was planned, the university’s athletics program was run by the Associated Students of the University of California. To finance the construction, a subscription drive was launched. Alumni, faculty, students, and fans responded immediately. For each $100 donated, the subscriber received scrip that could be used to buy two Big Game tickets at $5 each for the next 10 years. In almost no time, the first $800,000 was raised.

• The total construction cost was just over $1 million. UC Comptroller Robert Gordon Sproul (who in 1930 would ascend to the UC presidency) noted at the time that this fundraising effort made it possible to build the stadium “without the expenditure of one cent of University funds or state appropriations....”

• Construction of Memorial Stadium (above) started in December 1922 and was completed in November 1923, in time for the Big Game. The game, which drew 73,000 fans, is said to have been the largest crowd to that day to witness a football game in the West. Cal won the game 9-0.

• On the day of the stadium’s dedication, Sproul declared: “Deep rooted in the eternal hills, this memorial to the honored dead, here devoted to the service of the living, raises its noble crown into the clear California sky and stands in simple dignity, beauty and strength.”
Memorial Stadium renovation: The stadium renovation is driven by the need for both seismic-safety improvements and modernization. The plan is to create a first-rate facility to improve life safety, greatly enhance the game-day experience for fans, and provide football and 12 other men’s and women’s intercollegiate teams with space for a state-of-the-art training, development, and coaching center.

The renovation is to be accomplished within the stadium’s existing footprint, honoring and preserving the sense of a collegiate experience for players and fans.

“We are extremely excited about this announcement and appreciate the leadership that Chancellor Birgeneau has taken in this dynamic academic-athletic venture,” says Sandy Barbour, director of athletics. “In regard to our part, we are prepared to move forward as soon as humanly possible.

“Stadium renewals have become commonplace at colleges throughout the country. At Cal, our stadium is a signature landmark. We have a responsibility to preserve this campus treasure while also addressing the many pressing needs of the athletic department. It is time for the entire Cal community to join forces and make this project a reality.”

To ensure timely project completion, the building program can be broken into discrete stages so that the football team would be displaced for only one season and construction can be sequenced as fundraising continues. The first phase would be to excavate and build below the east concourse to provide program space during construction of major new facilities on the west side.

In addition to the training and coaching center, new facilities in the stadium will include space for sports medicine, the California Athletic Hall of Fame, a new home for the 200-student Cal Band, and new meeting and dining facilities to be shared with the business and law schools and the larger campus community. For fans, improved seating, new restrooms, concession areas, and improved walkways would be included.
Built into the entire program is a seismic renovation of the stadium — part of SAFER, the ongoing, campuswide seismic-improvement plan.The Hayward Fault bisects the stadium bowl; a quake could pose a threat to the safety of campus employees who work daily in stadium offices under the west concourse and students who use the training and team rooms, as well as fans during a game. The most perilous threat to life safety was addressed in 2002 when the press box perched on the west rim was torn down and replaced with a temporary facility.

New academic commons building: To provide modern space required of collaborative and contemporary legal and business education, a new academic commons building is proposed. The plan also calls for providing accommodation for the Haas School’s executive education and MBA programs.

In addition, the Athletic Study Center and other academic needs would be housed in the commons building, located between the law and business schools. Renovation and reuse of existing university-owned houses along Piedmont Ave. are part of the plan.

“This will be a physical and intellectual bridge between two great professional schools, not only meeting critical space needs for teaching and research but supporting innovative collaborations. It will be unique in America,” said Christopher Edley, Boalt Hall’s dean. Haas School of Business Acting Dean Richard Lyons concurs. “This will be a new era for professional schools at Cal,” he said.

Piedmont Avenue/Gayley Road corridor: Critical to the overall concept of a southeast-area renaissance and its goal of more physical interaction and social connections among aspects of campus life is a landscaping and redesign of the area between the stadium and the central campus. Envisioned are new pedestrian pathways and decorative paving. Pedestrian plazas and landscaped open spaces would be placed within the grove of trees west of the stadium. At the same time, improvements to pedestrian safety, disabled access, and bicycle and vehicular circulation would be made.

The integrated concept for the southeast region of the campus was developed over the past few months by the Memorial Stadium Advisory Committee.