Downtown Berkeley BART plaza set to undergo $11 million revitalization

Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

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Berkeley City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to move forward with construction plans to revamp the Downtown Berkeley BART plaza.

The plans to revitalize the plaza include using glass to rebuild the rotunda and bus shelter, adding a real-time screen that shows train departure times and removing the red brick walls that are part of the plaza.

The city has been considering rebuilding the plaza since about 2006. About a year ago, the city received a grant for the project upon the recommendation of the Alameda County Transportation Commission.

Generally, council members supported the design, although Councilmember Laurie Capitelli and some community members at the meeting expressed concerns regarding the glass material.

Capitelli voiced concern about the impact on privacy of walking on glass floors with people underneath and he aesthetic appeal of glass structures during the day. He also wondered whether glass would be strong enough to hold, for example, an emergency vehicle driving over it.

“I hope the resources would be put into something more durable such as granite, which can last a very long time.” Capitelli said. “Concrete is very difficult to maintain and wears out easily.”

According to Tian Feng, district architect for BART and the project’s director, designers plan to use glass in order to bring visibility, openness and more daylight to the station below, which in turn gives the space the “lantern effect.”

The rotunda will be constructed out of structure glass, which carries its weight so that people can stand on it and is held together by steel beams, Feng said.

In terms of health and sustainability, the glass will bring in more sunlight, which means that people will be happier, according to Feng. It will also reduce the amount of electricity used to power the lighting.

So far, the project is 35 percent into the design phase and set to cost about $11 million. Feng said construction, set to start in fall of 2015, is scheduled to take about 18 months.

According to Capitelli, during construction, the escalator will not work for six to eight weeks, so people with disabilities will only be able to use the elevators. The goal is to have the escalator area be constructed faster for the sake of accessibility.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the new plaza is a significant improvement over the current design and hopes that the proposal will help revitalize the future of Downtown Berkeley.

“(The current plaza is) pretty uninviting … It’s just not a really well-designed and used space, and it’s a shame because it is the heart of Downtown,” Arreguin said. “It is a place that really can be a destination, and we need to really improve our plaza. So I’m excited that we’re moving forward.

 

Contact Octavia Sun at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @octavia_sun.