Central Coast University Has Unusual Classroom; A More Than Half Mile Long Pier

Nov 14, 2019

California’s public university systems own some unusual facilities. They have California Memorial Stadium, the home of the Cal Bears in Berkeley. They own farms, used for research. UC Irvine has its own nuclear reactor.

Meanwhile on the Central Coast, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has a pier. And it’s not a little one: the more than half a mile of pier at Avila Beach allows for all kinds of marine research and education.

Dr. Benjamin Ruttenberg is Director of Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Study. The biology professor says Cal Poly got the pier by circumstance.

In the late 1990’s Unocal was phasing out its oil operations in the area. It would have cost tens of millions of dollars to remove the metal pier. The company came up with the idea of repurposing the pier. So, a deal was reached and in 2001, the pier was given to the university, along with an endowment to help with maintenance. It’s been a key element on the university’s marine research and education efforts.

Researchers say it’s a great tool to have at their disposal.  Dr. Emily Bockman is an Assistant Chemistry Professor at Cal Poly, and say she uses it for research and classes. 

The Cal Poly Pier is normally closed to the public because of safety concerns, but this weekend it will be open for tours. The free event will give the community a chance to learn about the research, and see some of the region’s sea life firsthand.

Ruttenberg says they’re proud to be able to showcase the unique educational and research tool, which is used by about 2,000 students a year.  The tours will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, beginning at the base of the pier on Avila Beach Drive.