Tolman Hall classrooms close due to poor seismic rating

Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Tolman Hall, located at the northwest corner of UC Berkeley’s campus, received a rating of “poor” in a 1997 seismic safety survey, which has generated concern among those with offices in the building.

The removal of classes and student activities from Tolman Hall — which occurred July 15 — due to the building’s “poor” seismic rating has been the source of recent tension between campus administration and faculty members with offices still in the building.

Located at the northwestern-most corner of campus, Tolman Hall is home to the offices of the campus Department of Psychology and Graduate School of Education. The structure also houses the Education Psychology Library and 13 general assignment classrooms — rooms reserved for sections that do not have offices in Tolman Hall.

The building’s “poor” seismic rating ranks only one above the lowest of four possible ratings from a 1997 survey that started the UC Berkeley SAFER program — a campuswide initiative to retrofit or replace 27 percent of the main campus’s total space, which was found to have a seismic rating of “poor” or “very poor.”

Since then, 75 percent of the buildings targeted for renovation or replacement have projects underway or have improved their seismic ratings, according to the program’s website. Eliminating classes in general assignment classrooms is part of an incremental effort to reduce the traffic of students and faculty in buildings with lower seismic ratings.

The removal of classes from general assignment classrooms was discussed in a recent memo sent by Catherine Koshland, vice provost of teaching, learning, academic planning and facilities, to deans and chairs of departments housed in Tolman Hall. The memo states that the decision was made to move people out of the building “to the greatest extent possible.”

“It is our intention that moving Tolman Hall’s (general assignment) classes to other locations on campus will be the first increment of an effort to move the building’s departments and programs to other appropriate campus locations,” Koshland said in the memo. “Finding enough alternative space to accommodate all programs and activities now occupying Tolman will be a challenge.”

The “alternative space” discussed in Koshland’s memo is only one of several areas of concern for staff members — academic and nonacademic — whose offices are in the building. Campus education professor Dan Perlstein said he still “has questions about our continued presence in a building that the university deems unsafe.”

“I understand that the university limits its liability, but once you’ve identified that, to leave some offices there seems odd,” Perlstein said. “It’s also a kind of strange calculus of who’s worth what.”

Koshland rejected the idea that the Tolman Hall staff members were being singled out, saying that “their risk is not any different from other people whose buildings are rated poor. They are not being discriminated against.”

“The first thing … everyone has to remember is that the seismic status of that building is no different today than it was since 1997,” Koshland said. “Remember what we have been trying to do as a campus … to address the seismic situation.”

Nonetheless, staff in Tolman Hall remain apprehensive. One staff member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said the administration has opened themselves up “morally … and legally, probably.”

“They said ‘why are you all of a sudden panicking? Because you have always been in this crappy building and told that it was rated poorly,’” the staff member said. “Well, now they are pulling people out, so that creates a different kind of division among those who have a right to be safe and those who do not … I don’t see how they can get around that, I mean morally.”

Psychology Department Chair Richard Ivry — whose department’s offices are located in Tolman Hall — draws a somewhat different conclusion. He said he believes that removing students “is the sensible thing to do.”

“However … it’s somewhat discouraging to those of us still in Tolman,” Ivry said. “It may be a slow process to replace Tolman. It is going to remain a risky situation.”

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 75 percent of the campus buildings were rated by the engineering review of UC Berkeley facilities that was conducted in 1997 as being “poor” or “very poor.” In fact, approximately 27 percent of the main campus’s total space was rated “poor” or “very poor.”