Regents Approve Construction on Energy Research Facility, Memorial Stadium Retrofit

Photo: The Helios Energy Research rises above Downtown Berkeley in this artist's sketch. The UC Regents approved construction of the five-story facility on Tuesday.
Ronald Kolb/Courtesy
The Helios Energy Research rises above Downtown Berkeley in this artist's sketch. The UC Regents approved construction of the five-story facility on Tuesday.

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Analysis: Regents approve two construction projects

Assistant University News Editor Mihir Zaveri talks to reporter Javier Panzar about two construction projects discussed and approved at the UC Regents meeting.

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Two long-awaited construction projects at UC Berkeley were given the green light from the UC Board of Regents Tuesday.

The regents approved construction of the five-story Helios Energy Research Facility in Downtown Berkeley as well as seismic improvements to Memorial Stadium.

Construction on the Helios facility will begin in June, while the stadium retrofitting will start at the end of the 2010 football season, said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

The Helios facility will house researchers working on the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute. These staff members are currently scattered in different building across campus.

Officials said approval of the site was welcomed by researchers, who have shared research space with other campus departments.

"It's fabulous, we are currently confined to a couple of spaces that we know we are going to grow out of in the next few years," said Ron Kolb, communications manager at the institute. "We need the additional space."

The institute operates in conjunction with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to research alternative energy sources. It currently has approximately 225 researchers, but the number is projected to grow to 400 in upcoming years.

"The expectation is that as we make progress in certain areas or don't we will move into new areas," Kolb said. "Its fully expected that the program will be larger than it is now."

Approval for a previous site for the facility in Strawberry Canyon was rescinded by the regents in 2008 after a lawsuit was filed by a group of Berkeley residents who questioned the stability of the soil at the site.

Construction of the Helios facility will commence after the building that currently occupies the site, a former California Department of Health Services building, is demolished in February.

City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said though he has concerns about the size of the building as well as the traffic problems that the construction process poses, he also sees benefits.

"I think (the Downtown site) is a much better location ... given that it is in a business district it is not in a sensitive area like Strawberry Canyon," Arreguin said. "In the long term, having this building at that location could be beneficial for businesses in Downtown Berkeley."

Due to the seismic retrofit Memorial Stadium will be closed during the 2011 football season. Games will be played at a yet to be determined off-campus location before the team returns to the stadium for the 2012 season.

According to Mogulof the $321 million project will bring the stadium up to the standards of other Division 1 schools.

The upgrades were mainly funded with money generated by the campus's Endowment Seating Program, which provides long-term rights to approximately 3,000 seats, he said. No state funds are being used on the project, Mogulof said.

The upgrades will also reduce the capacity of the stadium from 71,799 to 62,717 to make room for the endowment seating program, seismic retrofits and increased seating for disabled patrons.

"That was a trade off they were wiling to make," Mogulof said. "It is a part of what needs to be done (in order) to have a modern stadium that is in compliance with modern guidelines."


Javier Panzar covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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