by Bibi Koenig
I'm talking about that one building on campus that constantly spews out opaque white gas. Old, dilapidated, missing windows, strangely art deco-y with pilasters at the corners. Looks like a child or two may have died in it when labor regulations weren't as strict. You know the one.
Due to a lack of a better term, my friend Elisa calls this structure the "Toxicology Building." I too will refer to it as such.
I cannot remember my first encounter with the Toxicology Building. But, I can say that every time I see it, I have the same distant yet completely apparent thought that something seems very off and potentially dangerous. There was once an entire week in which I passed by the Toxicology Building and smelled the stench of gas, persistently. And while this did concern me, I didn't do anything about it. I'm not a chemtrail conspiracist, but I feel like I should care more about mysterious gasses. Maybe I, like many other college students, secretly hope for a disaster so I can sue the school and get free tuition. But I already get free tuition because my dad busted his knee while playing soccer for the U.S. Navy. So I really don't know why I think this.
Maybe it would be kind of cool to be part of a generation of slightly genetically-damaged UCB students. Like an X-Men situation, but instead of doing cool things I just hope that somebody gives me a job for my art history degree.
Anyways, it actually wasn't very hard to discover the true purpose of the Toxicology Building at all. While there was a part of me that expected a long, sordid past of dark deals and chemical warfare stuff, maybe some MK-Ultra shadiness, it turned out all I needed to do to find out more was go on Google Maps, identify the name of the building, and then look it up.
So, the Toxicology Building isn't the Toxicology Building it all. It's known as both the "Central Heating Plant" and the "Cogeneration Plant." Right beside it is the "Hazardous Materials Facility," but ironically I have no interest in investigating this adjacent building further, so I simply will not.
The Central Heating Plant/Cogeneration Plant, or "Toxentral CoHeauilding Blant" as I would now like to christen it (there's no official pronunciation; choose one) has been spoken of a few times by various sources.
Berkeley Facilities Services claims that the Toxentral CoHeauilding Blant provides 100% of UC Berkeley's steam needs and 90% of the campus's electricity needs. Where it loses me is that it doesn't state where the other 10% is from. Very suspicious. I assume there are goblins in a basement somewhere on stationary bikes coughing up the rest of the energy. Also, a website straight from the institution would never tell us if a child died in the building, so I don't really trust it as a source. BFS also claims the Blant operates 24/7/365, which makes me curious as to what would happen if it stopped. The obvious answer is Lucas would die, but what one may not realize is the campus very well might lose power!
Tobin Fricke provides the earliest account of the Toxentral CoHeauilding Blant that I could find. Published in 2001, his blog post offers detailed insight into the workings of the Blant, including several images of '90s computers. While Tobin claims "any of the information here could very well be wrong" because he had "written it all from my memory," I'd like to counter this by saying a man so honest could never be incorrect. Tobin says the interior of the building is hard to take pictures of because it is tightly packed with ducts, pipes, and equipment. He also did not have access to an overall plan of the Blant. So it seems like you could maybe hide a small body in there somewhere.
Jeana Lee of the Daily Californian immediately loses me because she claims the building goes unnoticed and unquestioned by most students. However, I begrudgingly reference her because she does seem to know what she's talking about. She says the Toxentral CoHeauilding Blant was built in the '30s (child labor?), but did not become a cogeneration plant until 1987. The Blant burns 150 pounds of coal a minute and is responsible for 71% of Cal's CO2 emissions, so it will have to be replaced or shut down in order to reach UC Berkeley's carbon neutral goal by 2025.
Despite all the information I uncovered about the Blant, I am more concerned with what I could not find: an explicit statement that no child has died in the building.
Anybody else with the misfortune of being from San Diego is likely familiar with the Nuclear Boobs, (officially the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant) a power plant between San Diego and L.A. that looks like, you guessed it, some boobs. And I still remember the deep, shared sorrow I and my brave contemporaries (the other people at my high school) felt when we found out that the Nuclear Boobs were being shut down permanently. This sorrow is similar to what I feel for the Toxentral CoHeauilding Blant–uncertainty, nostalgia, and the sentiment that I am face-to-face with a relic of the past that can no longer do what needs to be done for the people.
Fly high, Toxentral CoHeauilding Blant. Although I'm not really sure if it's actually going to stop spitting out gas all the time, or if they’re ever going to admit that a child died in the building, this surely is the end of an era.
Just remember, if that beloved dame of a building decides to go Chernobyl on us, you know where to find me: at Strawberry Creek. Drinking the water.