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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