Plans to construct a new aquatic facility at UC Berkeley are welcome, but the project needs to solve conflicts with city planning before breaking ground.
The $15 million facility is set to be constructed adjacent to the Tang Center on Bancroft Way in order to take some pressure off the overcrowded Spieker Aquatics Complex and provide more space to train student athletes. Its strongest selling points are that it will allow more students to use the Spieker complex and that it is being funded entirely by a private donor group called Cal Aquatic Legends.
But as it stands right now, the new aquatic center is not completely in sync with the surrounding environment. First of all, the campus intends to build it on a parking lot, taking away about 180 parking spaces in a part of the city where parking is already impacted. The UC Board of Regents should not approve the project until an adequate resolution to that problem has been offered.
Similarly, the project likely does not align with the city’s Southside Plan. A March draft subsequent environmental impact report for the proposed aquatic center acknowledged that the facility could conflict with the Southside Plan’s vision for how land in the area should be used. For example, two local business leaders requested in a letter included with the EIR that the space contain “retail, service, cultural, or other interactive pedestrian opportunities.” Proponents of the new facility need to prove how its construction will positively impact the quality of life for all Southside residents.
So far, officials have also indicated that the new facility would be primarily a training center, but the community might receive the project better if it hosted all aquatic competitions, allowing for increased access to the Spieker complex. No matter what, as plans continue to develop, the proponents of the new facility must work closely with local officials to make sure that Berkeley as a city benefits from another campus aquatic center.
Overall, the project is promising. As demonstrated by UC Berkeley’s dominating presence at the Olympics last year, the campus’s aquatic athletic programs are a huge source of pride for students. They deserve state-of-the-art facilities so they can continue to attract top-tier talent. Yet the new center would do more than service some of the campus’s best athletes: By easing the burden on the Spieker pool, it would allow more people to use campus aquatic facilities. Because of this, the project would be a net gain for the campus.