University of California at Berkeley officials today proudly showed off their renovated football stadium, an event that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau hailed as, "A proud moment in the history of Cal."
Memorial Stadium, which was completed in 1923 and is dedicated to World War I veterans, may not be quite as historically important as the Colosseum in Rome, after which it was modeled, but Darryl Roberson, one of the architects for the renovation project, said it's significant nonetheless because it was one of the first bowl-like football stadiums in the country.
Edward Denton, UC Berkeley's vice chancellor for facilities services, said the stadium's original architects knew it was located directly on top of the Hayward Fault and did their best to make it seismically safe but the stadium deteriorated over the years and needed to be upgraded.
Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said university officials have considered a variety of alternatives over the past 30 years, including having the football team play at another site, but ultimately decided that upgrading Memorial Stadium was the best solution.
"It's difficult to believe this day is here," Barbour said.
Football coach Jeff Tedford echoed those sentiments, saying that when he first came to Cal 10 years ago and the university showed him plans for a renovated stadium he asked, "Are you sure this will get done?'
Birgeneau said, "We encountered some unexpected difficulties," such as lawsuits by environmental and neighborhood groups who opposed the project and tree-sitters who didn't want trees torn down so the stadium could be renovated and an adjoining sports training facility could be built.
"You have to be patient and I was confident that ultimately this day would come," Birgeneau said.
The renovation work cost $321 million and was completed in 21 months, a time frame that Barbour said is "pretty miraculous."
No public funds were used, Birgeneau said.
The renovation work forced Cal to play its home football games at AT&T Park in San Francisco last year, so when Cal hosts Nevada on Sept. 1 it will be its first game at Memorial Stadium since Nov. 26, 2010.
"Autumn Saturdays didn't feel the same on campus without the excitement of football on campus," Birgeneau said.
Tedford said he got emotional the first time he got to go inside the renovated stadium.
"There's no place like Memorial Stadium to play a football game," he said.
Joe Diesko, another architect who worked on the project, said the stadium has many new features, including a field that was lowered by four feet so fans in the lower rows can see over the heads of the players and have a good view.
David Friedman, who works for the firm that did the structural engineering design, said the design divides the stadium into four pieces so that each section can move separately during an earthquake and not impact the other sections.
He said other seismic safety features at the stadium include concrete seismic blocks at the end zones to keep fans from rocking during a quake and a press box that can safely sway up to 12 inches in a temblor.
There also are shock absorbers to prevent the press box from crashing into the western part of the stadium, Friedman said.
Assistant Athletic Director Bob Milano said the renovated stadium has many amenities that will impress fans, such as new concession stands and restrooms, improved sightlines, new aluminum bleachers, permanent stadium lights, a wider concourse and rooftop plaza entrance to the stadium.
"There will be a lot of oohs and aahs when people see what we accomplished," Roberson said.
Tedford said replacing the stadium's old wooden benches was important.
"People who used to get splinters from sitting on the old seats used to send them to me," he said.
Milano said the university plans to use the stadium for more than just football games. The university will use the facility for trade shows, career days, seminars and graduations, he said.
"It's a resource that we want to use 365 days a year," Milano said.