Regents green-light new home for Helios

BERKELEY —

The UC Board of Regents on Tuesday approved revised plans to build a new home for the Helios Energy Research Facility, clearing a path for the alternative-energy project to move into a five-story building to be constructed west of the central Berkeley campus.

Artist's rendering of new building.

Artist's rendering of the planned Helios Energy Research Facility. (Courtesy Capital Projects)

Bounded by Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue on the east and west and Hearst Avenue and Berkeley Way on the north and south, the downtown site was vacated by the state Department of Health Services in 2006, and currently features an unused, Eisenhower-era institutional building abutted by parking lots.

By 2013, when Energy Biosciences Institute researchers are expected to move into the new building, the property will have been transformed into a modern, accessible space in keeping with the city of Berkeley’s goals for downtown renewal. Among other improvements, it will offer neighbors a public, park-like area on the south, as well as a wide pedestrian pathway along Walnut Street, which now stops and starts north and south of the hulking DHS structure.

The Helios project was originally slated to be housed in a large building, to be built in Strawberry Canyon, for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley scientists working on solar energy, biofuels, and other ways to curb global climate change. Under the revised plans, a smaller facility would go up on university-owned property at the LBNL campus to serve as headquarters for the Solar Energy Research Center, which is working to develop photovoltaic and electrochemical solar-energy systems.