Campus ignores workers over Edwards Stadium

That is the argument the lawyers for the bereaved will make after the collapse of the Edwards Track bleachers. Whether it’s 20 gardeners or 200 cheering spectators, the university will have to answer should the bleachers come crashing down.

The Daily Californian and other news outlets have shared the story of the risk of collapse of the bleachers during an earthquake, but it could happen during a track and field event when the stands are filled with families and fans. Since the issue has gained wider attention, the university can no longer ignore the danger of a stadium collapse, which, if you Google, is not such a rare occurrence.

I am a gardener at UC Berkeley. For 15 years, I have arrived for work under the Edwards Stadium at Bancroft Way and Fulton Street in Berkeley. We keep your vehicles and tools there. When a chunk of concrete the size of a track shoe fell from above, we informed management and took pictures. The university waited a few months before sending out a man on a boom lift to hammer away the loose concrete. It has since informed us and the media it was working on short-term plans — maybe netting to catch the falling chunks — and longer range plans to shore up the columns.

I spend less than an hour or so under the rotting pillars each day, but there are a number of employees, athletes, women in the sports program — who have a crappy little gym at the north end — and the general public who spend a great deal more time in this deathtrap than I do. And the longer I study this, the more disconcerting it becomes.

Ironically, the UC police store their towable generator under the bleachers even though I have repeatedly asked, “Are you going to need that in an earthquake?” And the cops in charge say, “Yes.” I point out that they may have to dig it out from under tons of concrete rubble.

Recent reports in The Daily Cal and ABC 7 news have highlighted the risk of 1932 concrete stadium bleachers suspended on 40-foot rotted concrete and rebar columns on the west side, the side used for track and field events — not only university-run, but for outside groups of high school and private track and field athletes including the prestigious Tommie Smith Invitational.

Concrete is a very long-lived building material. According to a recent article by Dean McCartney on the “Conversation” website, the pantheon in Rome is the largest unreinforced concrete building in the world and has survived for nearly 2,000 years.

But, according to McCartney, the 19th-century innovation of reinforcing concrete with iron rebar has cut the life of old concrete structures across America to 50 or 80 years, because of weathering, water infiltration, expansion and rust. That is the situation with Edwards Track.

Take a tour of the west tunnel, the area where hundreds of track and field competitors, their families and friends arrive, mill about, buy T-shirts and snacks before climbing into the stands.

To the university’s credit, it has replaced and reinforced some of its most dangerous buildings and closed the art museum because it has issues. But Edwards Stadium, the most dangerous building still in use, awaits a decision.

Reckless indifference to human life means, “Recklessly engaged in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person.” Hey, maybe they are already liable. Simply allowing people in could rise to that definition.

I have reported this dangerous workplace situation to Cal OSHA and I want the university to repair the track and find a better home for the grounds crew. If they don’t or won’t, I believe the stadium should be condemned.

Hank Chapot is a gardener at UC Berkeley.

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  • Paul Anderson

    Thank you for writing. Even without the bleachers collapsing, the underside has exposed rebar every few feet of the entire bleacher, casting doubt (among amateurs at least) on the structure ‘s soundness. I have been told alternately that the underside has been chipped away as a cultural practice, and therefore has no real structural problem, or that pieces only fall in wet weather, etc. But in any case, what the interior looks like would require an honest civil engineer to examine and estimate. Truly, some structures can look awful and remain sound, but it looks really bad. The ongoing poor appearance of Edwards stadium makes one wonder how well Memorial stadium was reinforced. The unprecedented building boom in the eastbay should make the cost of fulfilling a reinforcement or new construction contract relatively lower than previous years. There must be some economies of scale at this point.

  • Mukund Rathi

    Hank you the man. Thanks for writing.

  • Hank Chapot

    No, the campus is not ignoring workers over Edwards Stadium safety. Nowhere in my opinion piece did I claim this. What I meant to say is they have ignored the dangerous condition of Edwards Stadium for decades, and only got interested when I and my coworkers noticed a chunk of concrete that came smashing out of the sky in early 2016. Then i went to the Daily Cal, ABC 7 news came sniffing around, then i published this editorial. Thank you Daily Cal!
    Now the University is putting a band-aid on a cancer; in the next few weeks, they are spending money putting up “netting” to catch any falling concrete.
    What needs doing is a total earthquake retrofit to bring this 1932 rebar-reinforced concrete sh#tpile up to code.
    Or, it should be condemned as unsafe for human occupation.

    • nofrillsjustbills

      Typical of the Daily Cal to try to frame a reasonable concern of building safety as a worker-management conflict. As bad as Edwards may be, however, there are many other, even more earthquake-vulnerable buildings across the campus. Cal has spent over a billion dollars on seismic retrofitting in the last 15 years, which the state has refused to pay for. Paying for the bonds to fund that upgrade work is the major cause of the campus’s current structural deficit. Now, as everyone knows, there’s just no money. If anyone dies, this is on Sacramento

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