Campus Breaks Ground On New Athletic Center

Kelly Cox/Courtesy

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With one shovel full of dirt, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau did something he had been hoping to do since December 2006--begin building the controversial athletic center near Memorial Stadium.

While full-on construction will not begin until December, Saturday morning marked the ceremonial groundbreaking of the $140 million athletic center that has been held up by the court system almost since it was first proposed.

The project was delayed for nearly 22 months after three groups requested and received a court injunction preventing construction at the site. During that time, a group of protesters--some local and some not--tried to prevent the campus from cutting down 42 trees to build the center.

But within the past few weeks the campus won a court battle, the injunction was lifted and the last four tree-sitters were arrested, enabling the campus to finally begin construction.

"For now we are under way and it sure feels good," Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said at the gathering of coaches, student athletes, campus administrators and donors.

UC Berkeley officials say the center would provide much-needed locker and training space to student athletes, who have been without adequate space for years.

"For the 20 years I have been here, we've never had a locker room," said Diane Ninemire, the women's softball coach. "This is going to change that."

Three groups-the city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation-said they were concerned that the campus had not adequately considered the impacts of the center's construction and sued to prevent the plan.

But in August, the judge issued a pro-campus ruling that was quickly appealed by both the foundation and the association. While that appeal will not be heard for at least another year, the campus is confident that it will be victorious.

The center has been funded entirely by private donations and the ceremony before the football game Saturday was an opportunity for the campus to thank the roughly 300 people who have donated almost $108,000,000 to the project.

UC Berkeley alumnus Barclay Simpson, one of the project's chief contributors, said he thought it was important to fund college athletics because a strong football team would get people excited about the campus and inspire them to donate their own money.

Simpson, the owner of Simpson Manufacturing, declined to give the exact amount of his donation, but said it was more than $10 million.

Despite the fact that construction has officially begun, Zachary RunningWolf, who was an unofficial leader of the tree-sit, said he will continue to fight the campus's plan.

"We're very concerned, and we are going to be pressuring them," he said.


Will Kane is the city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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