Funding Approved for Art Museum's Relocation

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After nearly half an hour of debate Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents "reluctantly" approved preliminary funding for the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive's new Downtown Berkeley location.

The vote provides $5.6 million to begin the planning process for the museum's new location at Oxford and Center streets.

The museum had previously been set to move from its current location at Bancroft Way and College Avenue after it was deemed seismically unsafe in 1999. The initial design proposal, designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, was dropped last fall due to the project's estimated $145 million cost.

The board had already approved $12.5 million in preliminary planning funds for the project when it was scrapped - a fact the members of the board's Committee on Grounds and Buildings did not shy away from mentioning Wednesday.

Several committee members expressed reluctance about investing in the new project despite pleas from three UC Berkeley administrators.

"It's not clear what the value this project is to the core mission of the university," said Henry Powell, chair of the Academic Senate. "In such an incredibly difficult time when we are not able to enroll all the students that we want to enroll, when we are facing difficulties with the funding of the pension plan and many other things, it's very hard to see how this project can be justified."

The proposed new project would cost between $90 million and $95 million, in addition to the $11.8 million already spent on the previous project, according to Lawrence Rinder, director of the museum.

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Frank Yeary told the committee the $5.6 million, as well as the majority of the funds required to build the new museum, will be composed of donations. However, he added that the campus might be willing to pay the last $20 million required for the project if donations do not come in.

"There is, right now, momentum to raise money in order to allow us to migrate from this seismically poor building to a building that will not be seismically poor," he said.

According to the regents' agenda item, the new project will reduce the museum's current amount of assignable square feet by 2,900 but improve the "flexibility and functionality of the space."

Rinder said some space in the current location - such as the main gallery B, which is about 7,000 assignable square feet - is "very impractical space for exhibition of art" due to the concrete walls and the size.

"(There is) greater versatility at the new space," he said.

Because the Ito proposal was dismissed, the first step in the planning process is securing a new design architect. Museum officials have narrowed the search for a new design architect down to three candidates: Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro and New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

The candidates are currently developing concept proposals and thought experiments consistent with the museum's goals, Rinder said. The museum board will review those proposals in early June and then will make a final decision by the end of June.

He said in the best case scenario, construction would begin about a year from now, and the museum would open in late 2014. This hinges on regent approval of the design and financing plans, he added.

Christine Shaff, communications director for campus facilities services, said the location will provide better access from the downtown BART station and will become part of the city's arts district.

City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who represents the Downtown area, said the new plan is a greener alternative.

"I've always supported an adaptive use of an existing building," Arreguin said. "Preserving existing buildings is the greenest thing to do."


Contact Sara Johnson and Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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