Plagued by a number of structural and safety concerns from its beginnings, the CLA’s days are numbered.
Piercing the horizon, the Classroom, Laboratory and Administration building (CLA) is a campus landmark and a piece of our polytechnic identity.
Constructed in 1992 by Antoine Predock, the 2006 recipient of the American Institute of Architects award, the CLA is an iconic building that is commonly referred to as “the pointy building” and can be seen from the surrounding freeways and off-ramps.
A quarter of a century after its construction, the historic building will soon be vacant. It has numerous structural flaws, so a new student services building is being built across the street.
Although never addressed as a major issue during the construction phase, the CLA is sitting atop the San Jose Fault line. Only after the building was completed did officials decide that building the CLA on top of the fault could be a possible concern.
Speaking with The Architect’s Newspaper in 2010, Predock expressed his outrage over the California State University system’s decision to construct a new building and possibly tear down the CLA.
“It’s devastating to imagine that this iconic structure, one of the most important of my designs might be demolished,” Predock said.
In the ‘80s, there was a pressing need at Cal Poly Pomona for a new building to help accommodate students coming in due to increased enrollment. So, in 1988, a $135 million bond for the CSU system to build the CLA building was approved by both the governor at the time, George Deukmejian, and the state Legislature. The bond passed public approval in the November elections.
Predock was chosen in 1991 by CPP officials from a competition between architects to build the new CLA building.
Of the $135 million bond, only $23.7 was used for planning and construction.
Construction began on March 22, 1991 with a groundbreaking ceremony in the rose garden, after Predock’s design for the building was approved.
In 1992, construction halted for two months because of safety concerns on terraces and outdoor balconies. Once the concerns were evaluated and deemed secure, construction began again.
Officials said that, surprisingly, the construction would be completed sooner than anticipated.
The building is said to have undergone numerous safety and building code inspections during construction, even though it has numerous problems with electricity, leaking water and structural safety.
Vice President for Facilities, Planning and Management, Michael Sylvester, commented to The Architect’s Newspaper in 2010 on the decision to replace the CLA.
“During the construction phase, the project went under intense scrutiny by the university and its peer review panel, continuing into the construction phase with a team of university inspectors.”
The 198,895-square-foot building’s cost amounted to $24 million and was completed in 1993. Administration began to move in on May 4 of that year.
Because of its futuristic shape, the CLA has been featured in many films and movies, including 1993’s “Reverse Heaven,” later renamed “Heaven and Hell,” 1997’s “Gattaca” and NBC’s “Brave New World” (1998).
“Everyone kind of knows the school as the pointy building,” fourth-year psychology student Leslie Penaloza said. “It’s going to be kind of sad [replacing the CLA with the new student services building], but it’s for the best.”
After being built, the CLA became a concern for officials as a hazard for suicidal students after four people jumped off one of CSU Fullerton’s buildings over the years.
The only suicide CPP has acknowledged at the CLA occurred in 2003 when an alumnus jumped off the fifth floor of the classroom portion of the CLA and died a day later due to his injuries.
According to the Southern California Earthquake Data Center, the San Jose Fault is 11 miles long and has an average slip rate of 0.2 to 2 millimeters per year. The last earthquake centered around this fault line was in 1990.
Even though the building is constructed to withstand earthquakes by swaying back and forth during shaking, its beams and connections are not up to California’s seismic code. It also does not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act code.
The building has a history of construction defects, including leaking water immediately after it was finished in 1993 and electrical system and operational issues that would amount to a massive cost of $80 million to be repaired.
In a message to the campus in 2010, former University President Michael Ortiz said, “Even after a major renovation, the CLA would remain difficult to navigate, waste internal space, be energy inefficient and subject to future mitigation issues – and it would still sit atop the San Jose Fault.”
Because of these structural flaws, CPP filed a lawsuit in 2005 against the contractor that built the CLA and won $13.3 million in the case.
In 2010 the CSU Board of Trustees approved a budget of $76.5 million to replace the CLA with a new building.
“In their haste to find a quick solution to common structural problems, university officials have chosen to raze this important visual landmark and, by doing so, it will demolish a vital part of the university’s identity,” Predock told The Architect’s Newspaper.
Several options about what is going to happen to the CLA are currently being discussed, but nothing has been decided yet.
Director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction Daniel Johnson said he could not release the confidential information about what is being considered for the building’s future.
“We haven’t gotten to that point that is appropriate to talk about what’s going to happen to it [the CLA],” he said.
Construction on the new student services building began in May 2017 and is expected to be completed this December.
Johnson said the administration will begin moving from the CLA tower to the new student services building in January 2019.
Once the move is complete, the upper stories of the CLA will remain vacant while the lower stories will remain operational, as the building will still be functional.
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