Rooms to improve
You can’t have a university without classrooms. But with the daily wear and tear they suffer, maintaining this precious campus resource can be a challenge

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs



Among the key interdepartmental team members helping to keep campus classrooms in shape are (L to R) media systems engineer Daniel Koepke, campus classroom manager LaVern Lazzereschi, and project manager Ruben Mejia.
Noah Berger photo

21 August 2002 | During the school year, more than 2,500 students a day take classes in 22 Warren Hall. Over time, this high-volume usage takes its toll on the auditorium’s cushioned seats.

Under the pressure of so many bottoms, the chairs’ springs eventually pop through the fabric, giving pupils an unpleasant poke when they plop themselves down for a lecture.

“We reupholstered these chairs in the mid-1990s,” explains LaVern Lazzereschi, who, through the Office of the Registrar, manages the campus’s classrooms. “But with this kind of traffic, the fabric only lasts so long.”

The story is similar for Berkeley’s 246 other classrooms. With thousands of students passing through each day, the rooms take a beating.

“Students put their feet up on the chairs, scribble on the walls, drag desks around the building, and spill sodas on the furniture,” says Lazzereschi. “Things wear down quickly under that kind of use.”

The responsibility for keeping these rooms in shape falls to Lazzereschi and numerous staff from Physical Plant–Campus Services, Capital Projects, and Educational Technology Services. The group oversees both the Classroom Renovation Program and the Instructional Technology Upgrade Program. Ruben Meija, from Capital Projects, is project manager for both.

The Classroom Renovation Program is based on a seven-year cycle during which all general assignment classrooms are spiffed up. Basic upgrades include painting, wood refinishing, repair or replacement of furniture, cleaning blinds, resurfacing floors, hanging new chalkboards, and improvements to safety features. Reupholstering seats — which will happen in 22 Warren this year — is also sometimes required.

“We’ve noticed that when the rooms are in good condition,” says Lazzereschi, “they get treated better by their occupants.”

But maintaining Berkeley’s classrooms is not an easy task.

First, there is an extremely limited budget for the program, and it is funded through the initiative process, so the amount can change from year to year. Even so, a limited number of classrooms are renovated each year. Last year, ten classrooms were upgraded.

“We pinch pennies until they scream,” Lazzereschi chuckles. “Whenever possible, we try to repair what’s already there instead of buying new.”

In the rare instance when purchases are made, items are submitted to a rigorous testing process.

“We’ll bring in samples of desks and chairs and have faculty and students sit in them to see how comfortable they are,” she says. “When I get a swatch of material for seat covers, I poke the fabric with pens and pencils, put gum on it, and pour coffee over it to see how it stands up.”

Another challenge is the small window of time during which these repairs can be made. Because the classrooms are used virtually year round, the short breaks between fall and spring semesters, and spring semester and summer session, are the only time crews can do their work.

The Instructional Technology Upgrade Program faces its own set of issues. Installing data projectors, control panels, computer connections, DVD players, document cameras, and projection screens is expensive, costing $20,000 or more per room.

Also, the equipment can become obsolete within a few short years after purchase.

“We have data projectors, for example, that were purchased just four years ago, but the images they project seem fuzzy by today’s standards,” explains Victor Edmonds, director of Educational Technology Services. “The projectors still work fine, but the expectations of students and faculty are now more sophisticated.”

Edmonds says there are currently 62 “electronic classrooms” on campus, with five more scheduled to come online this year. But as faculty increasingly employ PowerPoint presentations, the Internet, and other visual materials in their teaching, he says, the demand for equipped rooms is growing.

Despite the obstacles, both programs are diligent in their efforts to keep classrooms in tip-top shape.

“These rooms are a precious campus resource,” Lazzereschi says. “We want the quality of our classrooms to match the outstanding quality of Berkeley’s students and faculty.”


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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