Groundbreaking for engineering building draws supporters, protesters

Leddy Maytum Stacy/Courtesy

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Administrators, students and donors celebrated the groundbreaking of a new engineering building Saturday while a small group of protesters continued to express opposition to its imminent construction.

The groundbreaking ceremony — held on Cal Day at the Bechtel Engineering Center — brought together prospective students, their families and other guests and was led by S. Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering. The new building, called the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, will be built just north of Soda Hall and will provide students with design education.

The building’s own design, however, has raised concerns from some community members for contrasting with the historic aesthetic of the Northside area. In addition, about a dozen activists gathered at the construction site to protest the planned removal of trees at the construction site and the overall potential for environmental degradation.

The ceremony — which drew an audience of around 200, filling Sibley Auditorium — featured several engineering students who spoke, along with Paul Jacobs. Jacobs, a UC Berkeley alumnus, is the president of the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Foundation, which donated $20 million for the Jacobs Institute project.

“I really credit Berkeley for getting me to the place that I’m at in life,” Jacobs said at the ceremony. “I’m very much looking forward to seeing the institute get started and see what impact we have on the world.”

Sastry described the customized education model Jacobs Hall will offer, saying it can provide an “elite” experience for students to rival those available at private universities.

According to Karen Rhodes, executive director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering, the event was relocated from its original location of Etcheverry Hall-Soda Hall Esplanade to the Bechtel Engineering Center to accommodate guests.

Thomas Hodgman — a campus junior who was involved in recent tree-sitting protests against Jacobs Institute — said a protest was scheduled for the original place and time of the ceremony and believes the relocation was a deliberate move to avoid controversy.

“It really illustrates our concerns — we can’t even have a discussion,” Hodgman said.

Along with opposing the removal of 16 “protected” redwood trees and one maple tree that will be replaced with new trees in the same area, Hodgman also spelled out the protesters’ broader concerns with the university, stating a conflict of interest with the new building and Qualcomm Inc., whose executive chairman is Jacobs.

“There is a clear imbalance that the relationship of the corporation has with the UC,” Hodgman said. “This is the privatization of what’s supposed to be a public university.”

Construction for Jacobs Institute is set to begin this summer, and classes are scheduled to open by fall 2015.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.