Dark and Abandoned, Warren Hall Awaits Its Destruction

Joseph Geha
Metro Editor
November 29, 2012

Found: One expired can of caffeine-free Coca-Cola, missing pull-tab, sealed. Several boxes of unopened standard chalk and unused blackboard erasers.

Several hundred student desks, with blue plastic chairs and metallic legs. Thousands of pieces of furniture, including, but not limited to, file cabinets, chests of drawers, cubicle dividers, chairs, desks, and end tables.

These are just some of the thousands of pieces of administrative paraphernalia still left inside the now defunct ghost town of a building known as Warren Hall, despite the structure being vacant since June 2011. The former administrative and student services building, which also hosted some classes and a computer lab, was emptied after having been identified as a seismic safety risk over a decade ago, as the building will not properly withstand a major earthquake event.

Jim Zavagno, associate vice president of facilities development and operations, says the building wouldn’t necessarily crumble at the first sign of a big quake, but may fail in many minor ways that make it unfit for use.

Some of the other varied office equipment left inside in a state of disarray includes printers, reams of unopened white legal-size paper, computer and television monitors, refrigerators and freezers and vending machines. Some offices of former university officials have been stuffed with all sorts of desks and cabinetry, while others are left completely empty, save for the light spilling into the outer rung of offices reflected off the clouds hanging over the waters of the Bay.

“Honestly, I have never talked to anybody who has been in that building, who misses it for one second,” says Zavagno, who formerly occupied one of the high corner offices, with sweeping views of the entire Bay and the hillsides of Hayward. He noted an interesting “phenomenon” in the shifting of people’s attitudes toward Warren Hall.

“When the building was occupied, people always spoke of it in very disparaging terms, that it was ugly, and it was an eyesore, and the moment they found out it was going to get demoed, suddenly it was an icon.” He chuckled and said, “It is the same building, right?”

To cut down utility costs, the building has had power shut off to the lights of several floors, some at seemingly random intervals. However, almost all of the inner offices, where no natural light can seep in, has had power cut, making much of the building a dark and desolate place, even in the middle of a bright morning.

“It is surprisingly, an uncomfortable environment to be in,” says Zavagno, noting people visiting the building in its current state will find the emptiness and isolation quite unnerving.

A tour through the building beginning on floor one will provide a sticky coating to the bottoms of shoes, as blood-like corn syrup covers most of the carpeting and is splattered all over the windows and walls from the most recent “Urban Shield” training event, where law enforcement and first-responders are trained in a live simulation of various situations.

A trip to the upper floors through a still speedy elevator or the slower stair route reveals offices and hallways abandoned, seemingly in a hurry despite the reminder labels from the moving company detailing dates of move-outs for respective offices.

Folders, paper, old contracts, books, letters to former alumni, postcards, awards, paperclips, broken glass. Plenty of food wrappers and drink bottles are strewn about the floors and desks in nearly every office. The odd office reveals complete tidiness, with only a fully erected cubicle left empty and clean.

Scheduled for complete demolition in mid-July of 2013, otherwise known as the “blast date,” the building will begin being stripped of hazardous materials from the inside in Feb. This includes the lead paint covering most of the interior walls and the asbestos-filled tiles lining every floor. Zavagno says these materials are relatively safe while intact, they could pose serious health risks if they were left in the building for the demolition.

Prior to the demolition, Zavagno says there is serious consideration towards bringing in a vendor to appraise, purchase and remove all of the usable furniture left in the building, which is covered with numbered sticky notes for some now irrelevant inventory system.

The total cost for the hazardous materials abatement and subsequent demolition is estimated at roughly $12 million, and preliminary plans are in order for a replacement building dubbed just that: The Warren Hall Replacement Building.

Zavagno said a new name will have to be chosen eventually, for the $37 million structure, set to rest to the north of the current Student Administration building, roughly where the former Early Childhood Development center was located on the east end of campus.

The new, 67,000 square foot building will be nearly half the size of Warren Hall, however the design will be more angular and will most likely top out at five floors. It will house faculty offices and some administrative and student services. Zavagno notes the emphasis from planning and development’s perspective will be on creating a flexible and collaborative office space which can be adjusted as needed, something the tall, and narrow Warren Hall did not achieve effectively, likening it to a hotel hallway with segregated offices.

Currently, there are no approved plans for a new structure in the present location of Warren Hall, according to Keat Saw, director of planning, design and construction for the university.

After the cleanup of the demolition is completed and the remnants of the prominent tower are removed, the west end of the library will be covered in a glass “storefront,” which will afford students and staff an enviable viewpoint while utilizing library services.

The last issue to be sorted out before the demolition can be complete is the Peregrine Falcons who reside on an upper level ledge of the building. Zavagno noted as long as the adult pair does not breed fledglings, they can be evacuated in a safe manner from the property. However, if they do nest, the demolition will be put on hold until the young leave the nest for good.

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