Lower Sproul Plaza renovation may be completed in one phase

Kevin Foote/Staff

As the Lower Sproul Plaza renovation project is set to enter into a phase which will determine its minute elements, committee members have also been considering a decision to potentially minimize the project’s total construction time.

Recently, committees within the  project have begun discussions to consolidate the two-phase project into a single phase. The decision would affect future considerations in determining surge space for the roughly 150 student groups that will be displaced as a result of the project.

Renovation of the plaza was sparked by the passage of the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative in the spring 2010 ASUC General Election. The initiative outlined goals to improve the sustainability, safety and energy efficiency of the plaza, as well as create a more aesthetically pleasing space and an area for multicultural groups.

The original text of the initiative indicated that the project would be completed in two separate phases. The first phase includes demolishing Eshleman Hall. The second phase includes renovating the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union as well as parts of the Cesar Chavez Student Center. There are also plans to update the plaza and add a rain garden on the west side of Cesar Chavez, according to Jonathan Poullard, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students.

The project is governed by two committees, the Lower Sproul work group and the program committee. The work group is composed of faculty, staff, students and outside consultants, including contractors and the architect firm designing the project. The work group then funnels information and recommendations to the program committee — co-chaired by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande and Vice Provost of Teaching, Learning Academic Planning and Facilities Catherine Koshland — which serves as the final decision maker in how the project moves forward.

The total budget of the project is estimated at about $223 million, of which UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has committed to campus contributions of up to $99 million to fund the project. The remainder will be provided by student fees beginning in the 2010-11 fiscal year and ending in the 2051-52 fiscal year, as approved by UC President Mark Yudof in July 2010.

“My goal is that for every step of the process there is student input, especially because students are footing most of the bill,” said Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab. “It’s a project for the students, by the students.”

Currently, the committees are completing the schematic design phase of the project and will move on to the design development stage of the project upon approval of the project budget and design by the UC Board of Regents in November, according to Poullard.

The design development stage of the project focuses on specific details of the design, such as fixtures, lighting and windows within the buildings.

According to ASUC President Vishalli Loomba, deciding the number of phases in the project will determine which physical locations for surge space will be used for displaced student organizations.

Outgoing ASUC Auxiliary Director Nadesan Permaul said in an email that there may be complexities in consolidating construction phases in that the fee schedule and cash flow with the revised construction schedule would have to be reconciled. However, he added that he was “confident” that the university would make a careful analysis before potentially revising the schedule.

The next program committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, and a vote on the phasing of the project will be contingent on whether enough information about each option has been presented, according to Navab.

Loomba said that at this point a single phase seems to be the best option because more students can reap the benefits of the renovation and because a bid on the construction of the plaza will likely not experience the inflation in construction costs that may be present in a bid for the second phase.

“We want to make sure we’re exploring every possible option when it comes to phasing,” she said. “It has a huge implication on the process, so we want to make sure we choose the right approach.”

Victoria Pardini covers development and capital projects.