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Powell Street Station’s endless ceiling renovation almost done—two years late

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Grid ceiling looks spiffy

An underground subway station with white interiors and a grid-like metallic ceiling overhead. Photos by Adam L Brinklow

Commuters at the San Francisco Powell Street Station will finally see an end to the seemingly endless ceiling renovation that’s been hanging over their heads for nearly a decade, although the long delayed $7.6 million overhaul is still not quite finished.

The majority of the station now sports a sweeping metallic grid studded with new lights that are supposed to be more energy efficient and provide a less sterile atmosphere than the old fluorescent lights.

A small space near the exit to Hallidie Plaza remains under construction, but otherwise, Powell Street Station looks more or less intact for the first time in memory.

The results are almost identical to the original renderings for the busy station’s new look. But that’s about the only thing that went according to plan.

In 2011, BART ripped out the ceilings, citing “asbestos removal work,” part of a “station modernization project” dating to 2009.

That work was supposed to conclude in 2012; however, Curbed SF noted that the place was still a mess in 2013.

BART finalized plans for its Powell Street Station Modernization Program in 2015, which noted that “the station ceiling has been removed due to water intrusion from the underground water flows.”

A long white corridor in an underground station, with a new, gray metal grid ceiling studded with lights. Adam L Brinklow

In March of 2016, BART announced it would begin “restoring Powell Street Station to its showcase status” via “a $7.6 million contract to replace fluorescent lighting with new energy efficient lighting [and] install a modern grid ceiling and upgrade public safety features.”

The new ceiling was supposed to be finished by June of 2017. Instead the project lingered in a purgatory of exposed overhead materials for two years, in part because the renovation started behind schedule and because the contractor (Stanton-based USS Cal Builders) had trouble conforming to BART’s various maintenance schedules.

[Correction: A lawyer for USS Cal Builders says they are not the contractor. A summary of bids BART published in 2016 shows that USS Cal Builders was the second-lowest bidder on the contract, behind SF’s Icenogle Construction Management.]

A different company came in to install the sprinkler systems, which meant more red tape and even more delays.

The renovation’s sluggish pace disconcerted commuters, but delighted pigeons. In fact, the urban fowl infiltrated the ceiling spaces with such regularity that contractors deployed fake owls to try to scare them away.

According to BART’s Monthly Ridership Reports, more than 22,800 riders exited at Powell Station on an average weekday in 2018, out of 414,166 systemwide exits in total.

That makes Powell the third-busiest BART station, behind Embarcadero and Montgomery. The final completion window for the ceiling update is now “fall/winter 2019.”

One of the few unfinished areas still remaining.