Visit the temporary office of Cal assistant athletic director Bob Milano Jr. across from Memorial Stadium, and you can sit in one of the luxury chairs that will be part of the top-tier seating at the renovated facility. That's about the only way you'll get a feel for one of the seats without dishing out tens of thousands of dollars.

Cal's Endowment Seating Program is a highlight of the new Memorial Stadium, which is scheduled to be unveiled with the Bears' football home opener in September 2012.

Cal played its last game at Memorial Stadium in its current configuration Saturday, losing to Washington 16-13.

Built in 1923, the facility is being overhauled to make it seismically safe, bring it up to current code standards and to improve the fan experience. The Bears will play their home games next year at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Work begins in earnest Monday when Webcor Builders, the contractor for the $321 million project, fences off the stadium and starts preparations for the renovations. That includes tearing down two-thirds of the facility and rebuilding it from the ground up.

"We are basically replacing the concrete structure," said Milano, who is in charge of the athletic department's capital planning and management. The project calls for the entire west side of the stadium -- the press box side -- and parts of the north and south ends, to be replaced. Those areas are under seismic risk. The wall of the stadium will be preserved and the construction will take place inside it.

The 3,000 Endowment Seating Program seats will be on the west side of the stadium, opposite the student section. There are three levels: University Club, Stadium Club and Field Club. They will feature different styles of theater seating and be situated between the 30-yard lines. The University Club seats -- the most expensive -- will make up the top rows of the stadium and be adjacent to a huge club room on the top level of a new, two-level press box. Behind that room will be a 5,937-square-foot outdoor terrace with a spectacular view of Berkeley and beyond.

Donors will pay $40,000 to $225,000 to be guaranteed 40 to 50 years of season tickets, depending on what seats they purchase. Fees go up if they pay in installments.

Milano said the first thing most fans will notice from the outside is the size of the new press box.

"It's bigger than people realize," he said. "We really wanted to keep the profile of this building as low as possible. It's going to be pretty big, but it could even be bigger. We made it as small and compact as we could but still have it function as a modern stadium."

There will be a few thousand benches with backs that flank the Endowment Seating Program area. The remaining sections on the west side and north and south end zones will have new benches.

There won't be much work done to the east side of the stadium. Milano said the plan is to replace the wooden benches on that side with the aluminum ones taken from the west side.

"We hope to replace all the wood seating with all the aluminum seating," Milano said. "It's good recycling."

Other features of the renovated stadium include a plaza level that will double as the roof of the new Student-Athlete High Performance Center, permanent lighting, wider concourses and more bathrooms. The field also will be brought down about 3 feet to improve sight lines for the lower rows of the stadium.

Capacity is being cut from 71,799 to 63,000 to improve handicap accessibility and because the theater seating will require extra space.

"The new building will feel new," Milano said. "It will have the same shape and characteristics but it won't have the years of spilled Coke and cleats walking up and down the stairs. It won't have that old concrete feel."

Milano said the athletic department worked with architectural firms HTNB and Studios Architecture to try to strike a balance of modernization and tradition. The school wanted to preserve as much as it could from the old stadium while upgrading it in a way that would be palatable for everyone.

"We're trying to maximize all the good things from the current game day experience," Milano said. "We want to keep all those good things to make people feel attached to the stadium and correct all the bad things."

Several years ago, Milano, athletic director Sandy Barbour, other athletic department officials and representatives from the architectural firms visited college stadiums across the country. The group took tours of facilities at the University of Texas, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State, Penn State and Ohio State.

"We saw the good and the bad in them," Milano said. "I think it started the conversation about what the vision for our stadium should be. Ohio State was probably the best example because athletics shared a common vision with the campus about maintaining the historic feel."

But school officials have more than the game day experience in mind.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford hopes the new facility can boost the football program. The renovated stadium, along with the new student-athlete center that's under construction, could help Tedford when he's marketing his program to recruits.

"I know how impressionable kids are, and in this day and age of recruiting with the so-called 'arms race,' it's difficult to compete sometimes," Tedford said. "It's just one phase of the recruiting part. But facilities are a major part of recruiting and so I do think that it will help us."

'NEW' MEMORIAL STADIUM
Scheduled opening: September 2012
Capacity: 63,000
Architects: HTNB, Studios Architecture
Contractor: Webcor
Features: New theater seating for top-tier donors, new benches, permanent lighting, wider concourses, more bathrooms, larger press box.