At 9 a.m. on Monday, officials from the Berkeley Student Cooperative and the campus will take a walk-through of Sherman Hall. Sherman, a 40-resident all-women’s co-op on South Side, is right next to California Memorial Stadium, and the Shermanites within have been impacted heavily by this past year’s construction. Noise and dust have made a living situation difficult at best, and near-unbearable at worst, for the students living there. The walk-through is aimed at providing solutions to minimize the construction’s ongoing effects for Sherman and its residents, but both are long overdue. Members and staff at the BSC, including myself, encourage the campus to mitigate the impacts of this next year’s construction through a few simple measures, outlined below.
First, a little background: Sherman Hall has been a co-op since 1942, and over the past 70 years its residents have coexisted happily with the stadium next door. Shermanites have attended football games, chatted with fans on game day and even had a lemonade stand or two to keep fellow Bears hydrated for home-game victories (USC 2003 … yeah, that was Sherman lemonade). Overall, it’s been a great relationship, and the Shermanites I know love living next door to Memorial Stadium. They also recognize the Stadium’s safety predicament, and want the retrofit to be a success, especially now that it’s going full swing.
But 2008 saw the start of construction on the Student Athlete High Performance Center, and December 2010 brought massive, unprecedented work toward the stadium retrofit. This construction has directly affected living conditions at Sherman — which, because of its proximity to the stadium, is more impacted than any other property — through large amounts of dust and loud construction noise 12 hours per day. I’ve seen dust layers on windowsills inside the house, and it can be nearly impossible to have a conversation between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when construction takes place. For residents trying to sleep in, jackhammers are often unwelcome alarm clocks hours too early. In short, it’s been a rough several months.
Shermanites have been patient with the campus throughout the retrofit, but they deserve more towards minimizing its impacts. We at the BSC appreciate what officials have done so far (air purifiers, requested in February, were provided near the end of spring semester and earplugs and noise-reducing headphones have been given to residents who requested them), yet this is not enough considering the the construction’s impacts. With school about to start, university officials should take steps to make life reasonable for the stadium’s 40 co-op neighbors. They owe it to them, especially considering another year of 12-hour construction days ahead.
The two final requests, which we originally posed in February, are simple: double-pane windows for Sherman and regular dust monitoring with published results. The first will make Sherman a livable home — though headphones and earplugs might block out construction noise, they also mute friends and housemates. And should earplugs fall out mid-sleep (or should a resident have difficulty sleeping with them in), the 7 a.m. construction-noise-alarm-clock blares with full effect, which is not something any full-time student should be subjected to. With double-pane windows, construction noise would be stopped before entering the house. This would create an environment conducive to peaceful, communal living; and since the campus’s construction is disrupting that right now, it’s their responsibility to help us restore Sherman as a livable space.
The second request, dust monitoring, would allow us to ensure that Sherman remains a healthy living environment. Should there be excessive concrete dust — or, even worse, asbestos or other toxic particles — those living next door deserve to know for their own health and safety. The last thing we want is more residents with breathing issues — a problem many Shermanites had before filters were installed — or whatever health effects dust inhalation can cause years down the road. The best way for us to avoid both of those is to know what’s in the air and work with construction crews to minimize harm, and we are asking the university to start monitoring and let the public know what dust is coming from Memorial Stadium.
Both of our ongoing requests are reasonable. They’re also fiscally sound and supported by precedent. For example, it’s not unusual for a public entity to fund permanent improvements to privately-owned buildings if it benefits the public good: grants and loans for weatherization, improving façades and creating affordable housing happen all over the Bay Area. Soundproofing Sherman Hall would help us keep affordable housing for 40 students livable, which is also in the campus’s interest. And the cost of soundproofing is a drop in the bucket of the $320 million stadium retrofit, and definitely less than $1 million sound walls and other requests made by more-distant neighbors.
The disruption to Shermanites, caused directly by the campus’s unprecedented construction, has gone on for too long, and it’s the university’s responsibility to restore a peaceful living environment there. We hope that the walk-through Monday morning proves fruitful and encourages the campus to help us get Sherman ready for a peaceful and healthy school year.
Alex Ghenis is the Berkeley Student Cooperative ASUC Liaison.
A version of this article appeared in print on Monday, August 15 , with the headline “Sherman house affected by construction.”