Off the Beat: A Painful Death by Nachos

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So there I was, climbing an old iron ladder to God knows where, thinking to myself that this may be the single, coolest thing I'd ever done.

Now I don't want to sound like a loser, but for me, exploring the inside of one of Memorial Stadium's scoreboards was a pretty good way to start the day.

How did I find myself standing proud atop the north side of the football stadium on an innocent Tuesday morning?

Well, I was on a mission. A mission to find out a little bit more about the biggest building on campus. . . and just how much longer it's going to be there.

My guide was the very helpful stadium manager Bob Milano, Jr., who agreed to show me around the big building nestled in the cozy confines of Strawberry Canyon. After my hour-and-a-half tour of everything from the locker room to the press box, I learned one very important thing.

The stadium is pretty damn cool.

Located within its enormous confines are the offices for the football coaching staffs, locker rooms, laundry facilities, a weight room, a state-of-the-art medical facility, several lounges and club rooms and two pigeons.

Memorial's location in the hills provides it with beautiful panoramic views of the Bay and the campus. It's a great place to watch a football game. Or a lacrosse game for that matter.

But it's location is also a curse.

The Hayward fault runs straight under Memorial Stadium. Not near it, not around it. Through it.

As a result, Memorial Stadium is living on borrowed time. The U.S. Geological Survey and UC Berkeley seismologists predict a 65 to 70 percent chance of a major earthquake occurring along the northern branch of the Hayward fault within the next 30 years.

A major earthquake in near to the stadium would be bad.

"All we know is that (the fault is) gonna go," said Rick McKenzie, a staff research assistant with the Berkeley Seismological Lab. "We just don't know when."

And if the Hayward fault goes tomorrow, Memorial Stadium as it is now would not be sitting too pretty. The building is showing signs of over eighty years of tectonic activity.

The most notable effect of the building's faulty location is that the west side of the stadium is slowly moving north of the east side. Unlike most fault lines, which slip large distances suddenly in the form of large earthquakes, motion along the Hayward fault occurs constantly - termed "creep" - at a rate of five millimeters per year.

That slow movement doesn't necessarily rule out any chance of a major earthquake over the north fork of the Hayward Fault. According to Roland Burgmann, a UC Berkeley geologist, there hasn't been a major earthquake along the northern part of the Hayward Fault since the establishment of the missions in California.

"We know that there have been big earthquakes along the Hayward Fault," Bergman added. "The question is, 'Does the creep lower the stress on the fault?' If it doesn't, we are long overdue."

The bad news is that the football stadium is very, very, very slowly ripping into two pieces. Cracks are evident throughout the structure. As Milano and I were walking around, we spotted a three-inch crack just inside one of the tunnels from the concession area to the seats - people in the know call the tunnels vomitories. That's the real name, I swear.

The good news is that while the university can't stop the fault, plans are in the development stages for shoring up the building.

What McKenzie termed "life-saving" retrofits will, it is hoped, be underway within five years. Almost half of the staduim will be affected by the construction. Nearly the entire west side - from the visitor section in the southwest corner through the alumni section to the north tunnel - will need work.

Memorial could use a little facelift anyway. Built in 1923, its age is starting to show. Exposed utility cables run through corridors, rebar is starting to show through the concrete surface, the media and club facilities could be spruced up, the handicapped access is poor and the bathrooms are straight-up ghetto.

Fortunately, the athletic department and the university aren't ignoring the problems at Memorial, and are doing something about them.

"The options are doing (the retrofit) in the offseason," Milano said. "(Or) during the season but modify access to some areas, or move the team somewhere else for a season."

The retrofitting will be expensive, it will be an inconvenience, and it will be complicated. But compared to the horrible fate of being crushed to death by dirt, rubble and nachos, it will be worth it.

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