Amid construction, students plan for Lower Sproul Plaza’s future

Gabrianna Dumaguin/Staff

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In the multimillion dollar redevelopment of Lower Sproul Plaza, ASUC officials and other students have made something clear: The student voice should serve as the backbone of the project.

Workers are building the new Eshleman Hall’s first floor walls and columns with rebar and formwork. The west side of Sproul Plaza, including the space in front of the Golden Bear Cafe, is scheduled to be fenced off over the summer for construction.

Meanwhile, students are playing a crucial role in finalizing some of the building’s design aspects, gauging student preference for food vendors and preparing to allocate the new space to student groups.

“We as the people who are ultimately occupying the new buildings have a unique perspective that administrators, architects and others can’t have,” said ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack.

Students have partnered with members of the administration to make the Lower Sproul Project a reality. While such a partnership is atypical, Christine Shaff, director of communications at the campus real estate division, said the process has been going smoothly.

In spring 2010, the student body passed the Bringing Energy and Revitalization to Sproul, or B.E.A.R.S, Initiative, which established a mandatory student fee to fund more than half of the project’s $223 million cost and help pay for other expenses, such as accumulated debt. The initiative requires students to pay a $35 fee each semester, which will increase incrementally over the next 30 years.

The project is overseen by two main operating bodies that serve as the “connective tissue” between the ASUC and administration, Pack said.

The Commercial and Student Services Board ties students to faculty in various decision-making processes on campus, including matters that pertain to the redevelopment. The Lower Sproul Working Group, a body established as a result of the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative, was charged with the sole purpose of overseeing Lower Sproul’s future and functions with a student voting majority.

While the board deals primarily with matters of vending and other income-producing activities, the group also focuses on designs and layouts for the new space.

The design of the new Eshleman Hall incorporates the use of many large windows in order to open the space to the campus community. Students working on the project wanted the new space to be as lively and transparent as possible in order to reflect the transparency and efficiency that the ASUC hopes to embody, said ASUC Senator Briana Mullen, who serves as the Lower Sproul Communications Coordinator.

“The idea for this space is something kind of like a beehive,” Mullen said. “Always working, always busy.”

Arushi Saxena, a UC Berkeley junior and student representative on the board, said that students have worked to reflect UC Berkeley’s cultural values in the building’s design, such as the campuswide commitment to environmental sustainability.

The new Eshleman Hall will rely less on fluorescents and more on the natural light that will filter through its many windows. Additionally, Shaff said some of these new spaces may integrate the use of recirculating water.

Additionally, the board has been working to secure vendors for Lower Sproul with the help of an outside company. In late March, the ASUC Senate supported bringing the Berkeley Student Food Collective to the space. Ultimately, which vendors come to Lower Sproul will be determined by the board after a series of surveys sent out to students.

Continuing the work Pack began this year, next year’s EVP Justin Kong will also be tasked with allocating space to student groups in the new Eshleman Hall, beginning in the fall. Some members of the administration advocated an open structure with no clear boundaries between allocated spaces, but Pack and other students strongly disagreed.

“I know how important it is to for the student government and student groups to have a space from which to operate, a place to call their own,” Pack said. “You can’t build a sense of community without it.”

In addition to the construction of an entirely new Eshleman Hall, the project will ultimately also include renovations to Anthony Hall and upgrades to Cesar Chavez Student Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

Though many students have worked on this project for several years, few will be able to reap the benefits of their efforts, as they will be graduating before the new Lower Sproul is complete in fall 2015.

“I’ve worked on this project since my first week freshman year, and it’s been quite the journey,” said Mullen, who will graduate in spring 2015. “Certainly, it’s always been the idea of leaving a legacy.”

Adrianna Dinolfo covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]org and follow her on Twitter @Adriannadinolfo.