Tolman Hall slated for replacement due to seismic concerns

Arya Aliabadi/Staff

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In their Wednesday meeting, the UC Regents approved a $150 million plan to replace the seismically unsafe Tolman Hall with a new building in Downtown Berkeley.

The campus plans to begin working on the project in April and eventually demolish Tolman Hall, which houses the Graduate School of Education and the department of psychology, in the spring of 2017. Replacing Tolman Hall is part of the the latest iteration of a 1997 initiative to make the campus safe in case of a major earthquake on the nearby Hayward Fault.

Tolman, which will be demolished after the new building is finished, is particularly vulnerable because of its large breezeway and external concrete building supports. It also houses more faculty than other vulnerable buildings, meaning a disaster could be particularly devastating.

Faculty and building planners are discussing how the new building can improve on Tolman Hall’s “unpleasant workspaces, which include “cramped, windowless and poorly ventilated rooms,” according to the recently approved proposal and Lisa Kala, assistant dean for administration at the Graduate School of Education. Plans for the new building remain in their preliminary stages.

“We are actually very excited that we’re going to be having a new building,” Kala said, adding that, in this early stage, no one’s sure what it will look like.

The new building, planned for a lot on the corner of Shattuck and Hearst avenues, would be about 230,000 square feet, slightly smaller than Tolman Hall, and is expected to house everything currently in Tolman.

In 1997-98, three structural engineering firms studied the UC campus and gave 95 campus buildings either “very poor” or “poor” seismic ratings, meaning they pose a severe or a substantial hazard to life during a major earthquake.

Tolman Hall, which was completed in 1962, has a “poor” rating. No “very poor” buildings are now occupied.

“We have known for a number of years that the next seismic project would be a retrofitting of Tolman Hall,” said Ed Denton, a retired UC Berkeley vice chancellor of facilities services. “I am delighted to see that moving forward to the regents.”

The regents approved $75 million in funding through borrowing that would be repaid with campus revenues and $75 million in funding from the state.

According to Denton, projects that focus on safety rather than new programs — such as the replacement of Tolman Hall — rarely receive donor help. State help for these building projects has also been lacking since the recession.

For these reasons, the campus often has to take on debt to make safety improvements to buildings — in this case, $75 million.

“We have done remarkable things with and without state money,” Denton said. “Even though things have slowed a little, they haven’t stopped, and I would say they will never stop.”

Daniel Tutt covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.