Construction begins on donor-funded pool near UC Berkeley’s Tang Center

Mitzi Perez/Staff

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Construction of a privately funded pool that will replace the parking lot next to the University Health Services Tang Center commenced Monday.

The California Aquatics Center, intended as an intercollegiate sports facility for the campus’s aquatic athletic teams, will consist of a 52 meter swimming pool with a diving tower, surrounded by three single-level buildings with locker rooms and team meeting rooms.

The $15 million project was first approved by the UC Board of Regents in 2013 and will be funded entirely by Cal Aquatic Legends, a nonprofit donor group founded to raise money for the facility. All four lead donors are UC Berkeley alumni.

David Durden, head coach of the Cal men’s swimming and diving team, said it is difficult to accommodate the four teams’ training as well as other users of the existing pools, such as recreational and club swimmers. Athletes have to shift their schedules in order to take classes or attend trainings.

“We want to make sure that the student-athletes are pursuing their academic aspiration as well as having the opportunity to pursue their athletics without compromise,” Durden said. “(The existing facility) limits our potential in having them be the best athletes they can be.”

According to Durden, the new facility’s diving tower will also eliminate the need for divers to travel more than an hour away from campus in order to train twice a week.

Herb Benenson, spokesperson for the campus’s aquatic sports, said that moving the athletic teams’ training sessions to the new pool will open up 40 additional hours per week at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in the Recreational Sports Facility.

The Spieker complex is heavily impacted during all hours of the day, and the recreational swimming hours fill up quickly, according to Tara Garside, director of aquatics at the RSF.

Celeste Langan, an associate professor of English at UC Berkeley, said she is concerned about the exclusivity of the facility.

“The possibility of regular recreational swimming hours at the new facility is never mentioned,” Langan said in an email, and the “trickle-down” benefit to other students, faculty and staff by freeing up Spieker Pool hours would be challenged by the need to pay for lifeguards and staff necessary for the extended hours, she said.

The land where the new pool is being built — worth an estimated $7-10 million, according to Langan — used to be a parking lot for faculty and staff but is now being used to support the intercollegiate athletics program, she said.

According to Christine Shaff, spokesperson for the campus’s real estate division, the parking lot located on Bancroft Way and Fulton Street provided more than 200 spaces for campus permit holders.

“There is more demand for parking than we have supply — that is a long-standing concern,” Shaff said. “It is not new with this project.”

The project team has been working with the Tang Center to minimize the effect of construction on nearby facilities, Shaff said.

Urgent care parking that includes spaces for those with disabilities will still be accessible, street metered parking will remain available for clients, and public access to the Tang Center will not be affected, said Kim LaPean, spokesperson for the Tang Center.

The parking lot will be closed during construction, which is projected to last until June 2016.

Contact Tianyi Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @dong_tianyi.