Edwards Stadium. Photo: Hank Chapot
University staffer Henry Chapot first saw a piece of concrete the size of a sneaker fall from the Edwards Stadium bleachers four months ago. Photo: Hank Chapot

After chunks of concrete fell from under the bleachers of Edwards Stadium causing safety concerns, UC Berkeley has closed part of the building and initiated plans to install a temporary fix for the aging facility, according to a university official. Cal employees with offices under the bleachers have been ordered to vacate by today, Thursday.

Starting Monday July 25, construction will begin on nets designed to catch any further falling concrete — the chunks being the result of years of water damage, real-estate division spokeswoman Christine Shaff told Berkeleyside.

“The netting installation should start next week, and in preparation for the installation we’re moving equipment and staff out of the tunnel,” she said.

Rated “poor” by the university’s Seismic Action Plan for Facilities (SAFER) — meaning expected to sustain “significant” damage that will have deadly consequences in case of a severe earthquake — the stadium is on the university’s list of structures to receive seismic retrofitting. But the university does not currently have the funding necessary to complete the fix.

Falling blocks of concrete and the water damage that has caused them are a distinct, unrelated problem from the potentially life-threatening susceptibility to earthquakes, Shaff said.

Edwards Stadium. Photo: Hank Chapot
Visible damage to the structure of Edwards Stadium. Photo: Hank Chapot

“The damaged concrete has not contributed to the seismic rating,” she said, adding that engineers have examined the bleachers and made that determination.

University gardener Henry Chapot first identified the problem four months ago — along with other university staffers — when a piece of concrete the size of a sneaker fell from the bleachers. Chapot said he immediately informed the administration, and took photographs to document the issue.

Shaff said the university started working on the problem once it received the complaint.

Chapot doesn’t think the administration is doing enough, and says the bleachers’ poor condition is “still putting hundreds of sports fans at risk.” The core problem, he said, is that the material the stadium was built with — iron rebar and concrete — puts the lifespan of old concrete structures in the U.S. from between 50 to 80 years.

Edwards Stadium, which is on Bancroft Way (at Fulton), opened in 1932. The facility includes an eight-lane Olympic-class running track that is open for use by members of the university’s sports club, Cal Rec. The stadium boasts great bay views from the bleachers and its 22,000 seating capacity makes it among the largest exclusive track and field facility in the country.

During the installation of netting, the field and the bleachers on either side will remain open, but spectators may have to enter the stadium through an alternate entrance.

Edwards Stadium. Photo: Hank Chapot
The tunnel section of Edwards Stadium has been closed. Photo: Hank Chapot

The university has asked all personnel with offices under the bleachers to vacate by Thursday, according to Chapot. Some equipment, such as the UC Police towable backup generator, will also have to be moved.

Construction will cost approximately $150,000. Shaff did not have an estimate on how long it will take.

SAFER gave Edwards Stadium a “poor” rating in July 2015. A poor seismic performance rating applies to structures, “expected to sustain significant structural and nonstructural damage and/or result in falling hazards in a major seismic disturbance, representing appreciable life hazards. Such buildings or structures either would be given a high priority for expenditures to improve their seismic resistance and/or to reduce falling hazards so that the building could be reclassified ‘good,’ or would be considered for other abatement programs, such as reduction of occupancy.”

A good rating applies to buildings that would not “significantly” jeopardize human life in the event of a quake.

Shaff said engineers are currently re-assessing Edwards’ seismic rating but acknowledged that, regardless of the outcome, there is no money for a fix. “Since the state’s divestment in UC, we receive little funding for improvements like seismic work,” she said.

Earthquakes remain an ever-present, if not increasingly likely occurrence in the Bay Area. According to a U.S. Geological Survey working group there’s a 62%  chance of a Magnitude 6.7-or-larger quake along a local fault before 2032. And there’s an 80% chance there will be one or more quakes in the 6.0 to 6.6 range within approximately 20 years.

The likelihood of a quake in the region, and particularly on the Hayward Fault, plus the rapid technological developments that have occurred since the last major study on the aftermath of a shaker, have prompted the USGS to study the phenomenon. Call project Haywired, one of the focuses of the study will be on how technologies — such as the internet and mobile phones — fare during a major quake along the Hayward Fault. According to USGS spokesman Justin Pressfield, the government hopes to release the study in April 2017.

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