Proposed aquatics center aids campus

article image



We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

MAY 03, 2013

Last summer, Intercollegiate Athletics presented to the campus Capital Projects Committee a proposal for a new donor-financed aquatics center. After completing their standard review process, the faculty and administrators on the committee approved construction on the parking lot adjacent to the Tang Center. The reasons for approval were clear cut: First, the new facility will serve not only our competitive swimmers, but also every member of the campus and neighboring communities who use university pools. Second, the donor-based financial model guarantees that the campus will not incur any expense or debt to complete the project.

Unfortunately, a critical op-ed about the project (“Aquatics center sinks and does not swim”) misconstrued and/or misrepresented so many of the facts that we must set the record straight.

The critique claimed that the project will benefit only student-athletes, and that is demonstrably false. Currently, despite the fact that the Spieker Aquatics Complex is open at least 15 hours a day, seven days a week, it is bursting at the seams. That pool is used by our intercollegiate swimming, diving and water polo teams, as well as campus and community recreational swimmers, master’s swimmers, and PE classes, such as SCUBA. It is clear the campus needs “more water.”

Once the new pool opens, the intercollegiate programs will move many of their practices and some of their competitions to the new location, freeing up capacity at Spieker and making it possible to better accommodate hundreds of student, faculty, staff and community swimmers. There are also plans to host camps, clinics and other special events at the new facility that will be available to all.

The new aquatics center will, of course, help our competitive teams, some of which have been practicing at Stanford due to a lack of facilities here. Together, Cal’s aquatics programs have combined for 20 NCAA national championships, while students and alumni brought home 13 Olympic medals – including nine gold – from London. That is a level excellence and achievement we want to support, whether it is happening in a classroom, laboratory or swimming pool.

The critics also ignore the reality of university construction projects: We often go to great lengths to support relatively small groups affiliated with a particular academic discipline or area of research. In recent years, we have either completed or started work on a wide range of construction projects, including the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, the new Berkeley Art Museum and the Energy Biosciences Institute, that support the academic interests of some of our students and faculty, but certainly not all. This is just the way it should be: a capital projects strategy supporting individual endeavors that, in the aggregate, form and serve a broader community.

Erroneous assertions related to financing for the project must also be corrected. The author presumes that the aquatics center financial model is similar to that used for the

Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance. If we had been contacted prior to publication, we would have been more than happy to explain this is wrong. Simply put, this project is being financed in the same manner as a recent academic project – the Blum Center –e  whereby construction cannot and will not proceed until 100% of the donor financing is secured and recorded.

Beyond the unfounded criticisms directed at the aquatic center, the op-ed in question attempts to bolster its opposition to the project by claiming this is a campus in decline, with little investment in infrastructure, academic offerings and other high-priority programs. Here too the facts point to a different reality.

Since the adoption of our Long Range Development Plan in 2005, we have completed nearly one million new square feet of academic space in Stanley Hall, Sutardja Dai Hall, Starr East Asia Library, Li Ka Shing Center, Law School Addition, Blum Hall and the Energy Biosciences Building. Today, the new Campbell Hall, Berkeley Art Museum and Lower Sproul Project are all under construction.

Despite dramatic cuts in state capital funding, since 2011 we have actually increased our expenditure on renewal and replacement activities by 50% to $30 million per annum, and we have set aside another $15 million dedicated to meet new program capital needs.

During this same period we have also invested millions to expand academic offerings, resulting in over 700 new primary classes and 1,000 new secondary sections in common curriculum courses. “Time to degree” on the Berkeley campus has dropped, the average debt load for graduating students is among the lowest in the country, we have more low income students than ever and there is a new middle class financial aid program. At the same time, our faculty retention rates are at or above historical averages, even as we continue to successfully recruit new members.

Does this sound like a campus in decline? No, because Berkeley has weathered the recent financial storms and state budget cuts remarkably well. I can only hope that all of us who are responsible for providing students, faculty and staff with what they need to succeed can, in the future, engage in balanced, factual assessments of our programs, plans and priorities.

John Wilton is the UC Berkeley vice chancellor for administration and finance.

Contact John Wilton at 


MAY 02, 2013