Lower Sproul Plaza transforming into a hub of student life

lower sproul
Sureya Melkonian/File

By next fall, Lower Sproul Plaza will reopen as a bustling center of campus life. Stretching from Bancroft Avenue to the Golden Bear Cafe, the area has been roped off since last summer. Though the construction may look and sound interminable, it has been right on schedule so far, and there’s nothing to suggest that it won’t continue to develop on time. You can keep an eye on the project as it develops with weekly online construction updates, courtesy of the university.

Previously the home to the student store, the Bear’s Lair pub and the foreboding and seismically unsound Eshleman Hall, Lower Sproul was more a shortcut to campus than a destination for many students. “Lower Sproul was built over 10 years starting in the 1960s, and it began to lose its relevance less than 20 years later,” said Beth Piatnitza, associate director of Physical and Environmental Planning for Capital Projects, the university department dedicated to campus construction and renovation.

Lower Sproul Plaza was conceived by the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who apparently found large concrete squares to be the height of innovation. Intended from the start as a place for students to congregate, study, eat and lounge, in its final years it was little more than an aesthetically unappealing access route to the surrounding buildings. The plan to demolish and rebuild the plaza has been proceeding steadily since the regents certified it in 2005. In 2010, the student body voted to impose a small fee — $35 per semester at the time, escalating to $396 by 2041 — which will amount to $121 million, around half of the project’s budget. The chancellor will cover the remaining $99 million.

The new-and-improved Sproul plaza will contain, among other things: a penthouse office for the ASUC senators; a pub to replace the old and beloved Bear’s Lair; a ‘campus living room,’ whatever that may mean; extensions to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union; a new Media Center that will house Cal TV, the yearbook and other student media programs; and, according to multiplearchitectsrenderings, a whole lot of glass. The new Eshleman Hall, aside from being earthquake-proof, will have rows of solar panels on the roof and a rain garden to capture storm runoff and use it to water the surrounding plants, and every addition to the plaza will feature low-flow plumbing. Far beyond being a draw for new students and donors, the new Lower Sproul will affirm UC Berkeley’s position as a quickly-developing university dedicated to the twin goals of progress and sustainability.

And what’s more, the new Lower Sproul will be open 24/7. “The idea for this space is something kind of like a beehive,” said ASUC Senator Brianna Mullen in a statement to The Daily Californian. “Always working, always busy.” In Berkeley, a land where stores close at 10 p.m. and restaurants are never open past 3 a.m., an area students can inhabit no matter the hour will be a great boon for our campus. If there turns out to be a coffee machine anywhere in the new complex, the ASUC had better be prepared for several dozen live-in studiers.

So the next time you’re walking through Sproul Plaza proper and find yourself unable to continue your conversation or hear your music due to the unrelenting sounds of jackhammers, just know that it’s a small price to pay for a very big and very cool reward.

Contact Jacob Straus at [email protected].