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Final EIR on southeast campus projects released
New facilities will enhance athletics and academics alike - though not without some impact on the area's environment and historic character. Regents will consider the plan at their meeting next week

| 08 November 2006

Moving forward on its master plan for the southeast corner of campus, the Berkeley campus has released the final environmental impact report (EIR) on the overall program, which includes the proposed new Student Athlete High Performance Center.


The plan for the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects includes the new Student Athlete High Performance Center, a low, curved structure west of the stadium, the first of the projects slated for construction, pending the regents' approval. The projects to come later are improvements to Memorial Stadium, a new law-business building (lower left), a parking structure and replaced playing field at the site of Maxwell Family Field, and landscape improvements to Piedmont Avenue.

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The EIR and design of the student-athlete center at California Memorial Stadium will go before the UC Board of Regents for review and action at its Nov. 14 meeting at UCLA.

The environmental review examines the entire Southeast Campus Integrated Projects program within the context of the campus's Long Range Development Plan, approved by the Regents in 2005. The projects' overall aim is to renovate and seismically strengthen Memorial Stadium and enhance and better integrate athletic and academic aspects of the campus.

The student-athlete center is the first of the projects to reach design stage. The others, to come at a later date, include seismic strengthening and upgrades at the historic stadium, a new law and business building across from the stadium, landscape and site improvements along Piedmont Avenue, and a new parking structure - topped by a playing field - at the current site of Maxwell Family Field.

The final environmental impact report (www.cp.berkeley.edu/SCIP/EIR) was prepared to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The four-volume report responds to public comments on the draft report issued in May. It reports on aspects of the projects that will have no significant environmental impacts and identifies how some impacts can be mitigated.

Mitigation not possible in all instances

It also reports on significant impacts of the projects that cannot be mitigated. These include times of increased traffic at two intersections, increased noise when events are held at the stadium, changes to the visual character of some areas, and changes to some aspects of the historic stadium.

The student-athlete center, the first step in the Memorial Stadium seismic retrofit and renovation, addresses the campus's most serious concern for life safety at the site, allowing students and staff - the daily occupants of the stadium's offices and training facilities - to move into a new, separate building outside of the seismically poor stadium.

The new center will provide training, sports-medicine, and academic-support facilities. It will serve as a hub of operations for football and 12 other Olympic team sports for men and women. The design calls for 109,000 square feet of usable space on two levels. The building will be mostly below the grade of the sloping site to the west of the stadium, allowing full views of the stadium's historic west wall from Piedmont Avenue.

The center's exterior will be made of stone to complement the natural setting, and the roof will form part of a nearly two-acre grand plaza for game-day and other activities outside the stadium's west entrances. Skylights and light wells will bring natural light into the building.

To accommodate the structure, many mature trees in the area will have to be removed, altering the historical character of the landscape documented by the university, the report finds. An estimated 43 specimen trees will be removed and 44 specimen trees will remain.

To mitigate the loss of the trees, the student-athlete center has been planned to preserve the health of the remaining grove by safeguarding its natural water supply and drainage. In addition, three new trees will be planted for every specimen tree removed.

As required by state environmental law, the campus examined possible alternative sites, including Golden Gate Fields in Albany for a new stadium and a site at Edwards Stadium (at the southwest foot of campus) for the student-athlete center. The report concluded that the present southeast-campus site meets all of the projects' goals with fewer environmental impacts.

Campus officials noted that two of the driving forces behind the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects are to improve seismic safety at the stadium, which sits astride the Hayward Fault, and to enhance resources for both academic and athletic achievement while increasing the bond between the two. The seismic retrofit project, which is included in the second phase of the program, would reduce risks to life safety at the stadium, improving the facility from a campus seismic rating of "poor" to at a minimum "good," according to the EIR.

Historic preservation also played an important role in planning for the stadium, including the decision to place the student-athlete center largely below grade to protect views of the west stadium facade. The draft EIR acknowledged that California Memorial Stadium is a primary historic resource, apparently eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and the EIR's analysis of the proposed projects evaluated possible impacts upon the historic character of the stadium.

Project managers also said that all growth anticipated by the integrated projects is well within the growth envelope for space and parking in the campus's 2020 Long Range Development Plan.

The EIR, however, did conclude that the integrated projects will create some significant impacts that cannot be mitigated, because mitigations are either not available or are currently considered infeasible. They include the following:

. Changes to the visual character of Gayley Road from the introduction of the parking structure at Maxwell Family Field.
. Changes to "limited scenic vistas" from neighboring Panoramic Hill because of improvements to the stadium planned in the future, including a new press box.
. While the historic west wall of the stadium will be preserved, there will be adverse changes to the historic significance of other parts of the stadium as a result of seismic and program improvements. For example, this may occur with seismic strengthening of elevated seating areas and possible installation of new seating.
. Potentially significant adverse changes to historic resources, such as relocating or removing two historic campus houses and demolishing Calvin Laboratory to make way for the new law and business building.
. Adverse changes to the historic character of Piedmont Avenue due to pedestrian improvements and vicinity landscape changes.
. Although seismic improvements will decrease the risk, the potential remains for loss, injury, or death resulting from a major earthquake.
. Substantial periodic increase in ambient-noise levels in the project vicinity when events are held at the stadium; and noise in excess of local standards due to demolition and construction for the integrated projects.
. Significant intersection delays at Durant and Piedmont avenues, and at Bancroft Way and Piedmont. The EIR notes that if the city chooses to make improvements at these locations, delays could be reduced.

In addition to the Web posting cited above, electronic (CD) copies of the final EIR, as well as paper copies to review, are available at the Central and Claremont branches of the Berkeley Public Library, the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library, and the Environmental Design Library in Wurster Hall.