Students and administrators have struggled to fit all the pieces of Lower Sproul Plaza’s flashy, multimillion-dollar renovation within its $223 million price tag over the past year.
But as the project nears one of its final major hurdles in front of the UC Board of Regents next month, the campus decided to scrap the original plan of demolishing Eshleman Hall before renovating parts of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union building. Instead, it opted to do both together, leaving the project’s planners with an extra $30 million on their plate.
So when administrators go before the Regents next month, they won’t be asking the Regents to approve $223 million as had been advertised before. Instead, they’ll be asking for $193 million — $30 million less.
And the plan is to use the difference for other Lower Sproul-related projects in the future.
“The scope is the same,” said Cathy Koshland, vice provost of teaching, learning, academic planning and facilities. “This allows us to add back in some scope that was on our wish list.”
Students approved that scope in the spring 2010 ASUC general elections, when they passed the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative, approving a student fee to fund the renovation and improve the safety and sustainability of Eshleman Hall, the student union and the Cesar Chavez Student Center.
That vote has produced an approximately 40 year, $840 million endeavor to transform the obsolete plaza into a thriving student center.
From two phases to one
In the two-part plan, first Eshleman Hall and parts of the garage underneath the plaza would have been demolished and the career center relocated.
The second phase would have included the renovation of the student union as well as smaller parts of student center and other updates to the plaza, including the construction of a rain garden.
The two-phase project — which would have begun in fall 2012 and ended in fall 2017 — was originally thought to be more cost effective, according to former ASUC President Noah Stern, who still sits on the program committee, in an August interview.
“We saved the money by doing one phase instead of two,” Koshland said. “Why didn’t we know that before? Until we get a general contractor on board who is really the expert in logistics, you don’t know what your options are.”
Consolidating the Eshleman demolition and student union building and student center renovation to one phase shifts the timeline of the plan, which is now expected to conclude in winter or spring 2015.
According to Koshland, the money saved from consolidating the phases was much higher than anyone on the project had anticipated.
The extra $30 million — largely derived from the phase consolidation — isn’t extra yet. First, the campus has to go to the board for approval of the project’s now $193 million budget.
A rubber stamp from the Regents means the campus could start borrowing that amount of money. Then, as years go by, the campus would pay it back with money gathered from the Lower Sproul student fee and campus funds, which will total up to $99 million. The process is not unusual for large-scale projects like Lower Sproul.
Borrowing $193 million instead of $223 million won’t reduce the amount of money coming into the project from student fees and campus funds. That means that while everything that originally made up the $223 million project will fit into the $193 million, the campus will still have the ability to borrow and spend $223 million on Lower Sproul-related projects, netting an extra $30 million.
Campus officials say the money will be used for “additional Lower Sproul scope,” though exact projects are still undetermined. Possible projects could include renovations for Anthony Hall — which houses the Graduate Assembly — and the upper floors of the student union building, which won’t be renovated as part of the Lower Sproul project as it stands right now.
The campus plans to borrow money separately from the $193 million to tackle these projects. The extra projects would probably be completed parallel to the main renovation, and different architects and contractors would be considered that are less expensive or better versed in potential projects’ architecture.
Borrowing money isn’t cheap. According to a memorandum of understanding between UC Berkeley and the ASUC, the borrowed money will rack up more than half a billion dollars in debt service payments over nearly 40 years — with the principal cost of the project, it is projected to total more than $800 million over the course of the project.
“The campus had to come to the realization of how much debt can we afford, because this means this is going to take away from the academic enterprise,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande.
With the reduction in the project’s cost, project planners discussed lowering the burden on students. But ASUC President Vishalli Loomba said after talking to ASUC senators, she’d ruled out lowering the mandatory student fee. Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab said delegates feel the same way about keeping the fee the same and using it to fund other projects.
CalSERVE Senator Andrew Albright said that he supported the $30 million reinvestment into other Lower Sproul projects.
And Koshland said after discussing possibly lowering the campus contribution to the project, it will remain at $99 million.
“Students have to have confidence that their leadership and that the team that has been engaged in this process over the last year and a half have been both listening and have a good understanding of what’s out there,” Koshland said.