Construction begins on new Northside building

Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

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Construction on Jacobs Hall, a new Northside building that will house an engineering design institute, began Monday amid lingering concern from some students who feel that their voices haven’t been heard in the campus’s decision-making process.

The site for the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation is set to be completed by fall 2015, in time for classes scheduled for the space. Located at the corner of Ridge Road and Le Roy Avenue, it will hold six studios, or makerspaces, where student teams can work on hands-on design projects, according to Karen Rhodes, the executive director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering.

“The focus is on infusing the engineering curriculum with a focus on design,” Rhodes said about the institute.

The campus launched the 24,000-square-foot building project last summer and contracted with Hathaway Dinwiddie, a California construction company that has worked on projects including UC Berkeley’s Blum Center, this summer. The project received $20 million in funds from the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Foundation and has a budget of slightly less than $25 million.

While some preparatory work was done at the beginning of the summer to clear the site, excavation has just begun, according to Christine Shaff, director of communications at the campus real estate division.

The proposed site drew concerns in April when several redwood trees were removed. In protest, campus students took part in a “tree-sitting” and a vigil during which they planted saplings. The campus has said it will plant new redwood and oak trees on the site once construction is done.

“Redwoods are the state tree, and they’re important to many people here,” said UC Berkeley freshman Eva Malis, who helped organize the vigil. “Our university shouldn’t be cutting down trees to build more buildings.”

Malis also expressed concern that discoveries or patents made by students at the Jacobs Institute would be attributed to Qualcomm Inc., whose board chair is Paul Jacobs. Campus freshman Jake Soiffer, who participated in the vigil, described the construction as a symptom of a greater set of problems surrounding the privatization of UC Berkeley.

But Rhodes said any work done by students would follow an open-source model.

“This is an educational facility with space that is intended for students,” Rhodes said. “It’s by no means configured as any kind of research space that will be proprietary.”

Other criticisms the site has drawn include fears from groups such as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. They expressed qualms about how such a new building would fit in the neighborhood, which contains landmarks such as the Allenoke Manor and Cloyne Court.

Shaff, however, said she hasn’t heard anything from the association since the exterior materials, a point of concern, were changed.

Excavation is set to end in September, according to Shaff, and the framework of the building will be completed in February.

Contact Katy Abbott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @katyeabbott.