Construction vehicles near Memorial Stadium. Photo: Niclas Ericsson

By Niclas Ericsson

The east side of Piedmont Avenue – one of the main routes across the top of the UC Berkeley campus – was shut down May 23 for the summer, leading some nearby residents to complain about the continuing disruption caused by construction projects in the area.

James McClury, an architecture student, said getting around the east side of campus has been difficult this year with all the construction vehicles clogging the roads, and he expected the traffic situation to grow worse with the closure of Piedmont Avenue.

“But it’s impossible to stop it,” said McClury.  “The university is like the guerrilla gorilla of Berkeley, they can do whatever they want.”

Jack Chang, who was packing up to leave for his summer holidays, said he not happy about the closing down of one lane of Piedmont Avenue.

“That’s going to be a mess,” he said.

For the last seven months, residents around Memorial Stadium on Piedmont Avenue have been living in a huge construction zone as the university seismically retrofits the football stadium and constructs a Student Athlete High Performance Center. Huge cranes were moved into the area and loud banging was commonplace as workers used jackhammers to demolished the interior of the stadium. Some residents complained about the noise, since work began early in the morning, sometimes even on weekends. Others were bothered by the dust generated by the destruction.

University officials met with concerned neighbors in early March and pledged to hire an acoustical consultant to develop ways to lower sound impacts. UC officials also promised to communicate better with neighbors and give them advance warning when there would be construction on the weekends.

The demolition phase of the project ended in April and work is now focused on rebuilding the interior of the stadium. That — and the arrival of summer holidays — may mean an lessening of complaints over dust and noise from the residents in the area.

“The demolition phase was definitely the noisiest, and we are finished with that,” said Christine Shaff, communications director for facilities services at UC Berkeley.

In the fall, workers will start construction of a new, state-of-the-art glass and steel press box on the west side of the stadium, part of the $321 million overhaul of Memorial Stadium, which originally opened in 1923. This shouldn’t be as noisy as the demolition, said Shaff, although she was hesitant to make any definite promises.

“Strictly speaking there are still sections of concrete that are being removed,” she said, adding that 98% of the demolition work is over.

Construction on Piedmont Avenue right next to the stadium is technically a separate project, although neighbors don’t seem to detect a difference. During the summer, crews will install new sewer and storm lines, new street lights, and replace the sidewalk adjacent to the Student Athlete High Performance Center. To do that, officials shut the eastern lane of the street and directed all north-south traffic to the western lane. The entire road will reopen at the end of August.

On a recent Friday, many student residents of the buildings closest to the construction site were packing their cars and getting ready to leave for the summer. At Sherman Hall, one of the cooperatives whose inhabitants have been voicing complaints about both sounds levels and air quality during the demolition phases, one of the few students left said the situation had improved.

“It’s pretty manageable right now,” said Claire, who did not want her last name used.

Sherman Hall. Photo: Niclas Ericsson

However, Claire complained about occasional disturbances, such as construction work starting very early in the mornings. She also said that the administration at UC had not been very responsive to the complaints.

“It took a lot of involvement from different groups to make them respond,” she said.

“It’s quieter now,” said a young man outside International House on Piedmont Avenue who lives and works in the area, but did not wish to state his name. “During the demolition there was the constant sound of jackhammers.”

Nadine Ouellette, a postdoctoral student from Montreal who works across the street from the ongoing construction, has her own approach to the noise.

“Yes, it’s kind of noisy so I put in earplugs when I study,” she said.

There are still some minor legal issues in connection to the stadium project. A portion of the university’s Environmental Impact Report was recirculated for public comment in the beginning of May, due to a court ruling. The result will be published later this summer, according to Jennifer McDougall, who is in charge of environmental planning at UC Berkeley.

“There is nothing delaying the construction from proceeding,” she said.

The Student Athlete High Performance Center is expected to open in September this year as planned. The Memorial Stadium is expected to be completed in time for the 2012 season. The Cal Bears will play in AT&T Park in San Francisco for their 2011 season.

Niclas Ericsson is a columnist, novelist and freelance journalist reporting from the Bay Area for several Swedish media. He is currently interning at Berkeleyside.

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  1. So much hand-wringing.  So many ridiculous and unreasonable complaints. 

    Space is at a premium in Berkeley and in the BA in general.  UCB has no choice but to renovate the stadium;  there simply is no better alternative.  This is an old structure in a seismically-active area that requires significant upgrades to be made safe.  Any demolition and reconstruction of a structure this size will produce noise and will take time.  If COB residents and students can’t understand WHY the upgrades are necessary and that the work involved will produce noise, dust and the occasional inconvenience of detours and road closures, they’re beyond hope. 

  2. The stadium wasn’t any where near as noisy in the past.  The really loud games came with televised games.  The games are scheduled to benefit TV. 

    The greek theatre did not have loudly amplified concerts in the past.  there was a very loud concert the weekend before finals.  Is this really what UCB has come too?  Blasting Foothill Housing and Bowles Hall before finals to make bucks on renting the Greek Theatre venue.

    All other places in California are required to have noise ordinances and adhere to them. UC is exempt.  You are protected.  Why shouldn’t the neighbors of the stadium and Greek Theatre be protected too? 

  3. I agree, no big deal. I’ve done it several times in the last few days and wasn’t delayed at all.

  4. The closure of the east side of Piedmont by itself is a non-story.  Both directions of traffic are now being carried on the west side, with one lane in each direction just as before.  Unfortunately, motorists traveling north are greeted with a “Road Closed” sign instead of one reading “Detour”, which would be more accurate.  At most, the end result is a few unnecessary U-turns and the loss of a few parking spaces.  Par for the course for a construction site.

    As for the disruption due to noise and other complaints, that’s a whole different story.  The city of Berkeley, at least the foothills portion, exists because of the University.  No one can say that they lived nearby before it was there.  At the same time, the University does not seem to value being a good neighbor all that highly.  Every time the University acquires a new parcel in the city of Berkeley, they remove that parcel from the tax rolls and from city zoning oversight, while still expecting the city to absorb the cost of supplying infrastructure.  That really makes my blood boil. 

    And while the neighbors have some right to question whether new additions / renovations such as this are in keeping with the scale of the campus / city border, in each and every case they knowingly moved to the vicinity of a stadium seating 80,000 people (a number that will be reduced as part of the renovation), the Greek Theater seating thousands, a row of Fraternity/Sorority, Co-op and other student housing, and a campus of over 30,000 students.  Those troubled by noise or occasional disruption really should not apply.

    In the case of NIMBYs vs. Monolithic Bureaucracies, it is tough to form a balanced opinion.

  5. I don’t think that the east side of piedmont is closed at all. In fact, I drove across the eastern edge of campus yesterday without trouble. The work has diverted the right lane into half of the left side of the street, so it is one lane going both directions. There is no parking adjacent to campus, but during the summer holidays it hardly seems problematic.  I haven’t found it inconvenient at all, except for when I first saw it.. I thought that the road was closed! but alas, no, you can use the left part. 🙂

  6. Does anyone know if this will affect BHS (and possibly other) graduation events to be held at the Greek Theatre in June?

  7. “The university is like the guerrilla of Berkeley, they can do whatever
    they want.”

    I suspect he said “gorilla.”

  8. It’s pretty sad when a Cal architecture student thinks you can do major construction without traffic. What does he expect, cute little elves will be building his future designs at night so they magically appear in the morning?

  9. I’m sure a lot of people think they’re the ‘guerrilla of Berkeley’.  Nice to know UC has been appointed to that spot.

  10. While it seems that this would have inevitably happened.  I wish they had notified us earlier of the closure.  I think I first read about it at the beginning of May?  Summer is upon us and summer camps in the SCRA and Clark Kerr area are beginning, this news is not great.  I don’t like to upset parents and staff with unfortunate news that they may be delayed due to construction all summer long, but if the Athletics department would have notified us back in December things would have been a lot smoother.