Campus moves forward with plans for new aquatic center

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UC Berkeley announced plans for a new aquatics facility, to be located adjacent to the Tang Center, on Wednesday.

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UC Berkeley will move forward with plans to construct a new multimillion-dollar aquatics facility, following approval by the UC Board of Regents at its meeting Wednesday.

The $15 million facility, to be named the California Aquatics Center, will replace the parking lot adjacent to the Tang Center on Bancroft Way. Despite some concerns that the center will serve only a small number of students and remove valuable parking services, the campus plans to begin construction in August. The project is to be funded entirely by Cal Aquatic Legends, a nonprofit donor group founded to raise money for the facility.

The center is in part a response to limited recreational space on campus. Spieker Aquatics Complex, UC Berkeley’s only aquatic center, struggles to serve both competitive athletes and recreational swimmers despite being open from early morning to late at night most days, according to a UC Office of the President executive summary.

“By building this pool, we relieve some of the use that Spieker Pool currently has, allowing us to open it up to students more of the time,” said Edward Denton, vice chancellor of facilities services, at the meeting.

According to Denton, the campus was planning to use the parking lot to develop administrative buildings but changed plans when donors offered to finance a new aquatic facility.

Despite the project’s private funding source, some are concerned that the new aquatic center will allocate UC resources to only a small number of students.

“It’s probably true that better facilities and resources aid performance,” said Celeste Langan, an associate professor of English at UC Berkeley, in an op-ed for The Daily Californian in April. “But shouldn’t we be applying that principle first to the 99 percent of Berkeley students who are not intercollegiate athletes, and to the object of academic performance?”

Regent George Kieffer also said the university should be wary of pursuing projects simply because private donors offer money.

“I think this is a good project, but I think that we should be careful about simply (pursuing projects where) because someone gives a gift, that’s the direction we go in,” Kieffer said.

The aquatic facility is set to finish construction by July 2014, according to a UC Office of the President executive summary. Following approval from the regents, the campus will begin refining the facility’s design, said Christine Shaff, director of communications for the campus’s Facilities Services department.

Once constructed, the aquatics facility will be home to some of UC Berkeley’s most elite athletes.

“One of the people who is going to swim in this pool is Missy Franklin,” said Chancellor Robert Birgeneau at the meeting. “This facility will be a crown jewel in her ability to train.”

Libby Rainey covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rainey_l.

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