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High school building project under way

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday March 06, 2001

The Berkeley High campus has suffered more than its fair share of indignities over the years. First the Loma Prieta earthquake took out its cafeteria in 1989. Then a fire gutted the B Building last spring. 

Even when the B Building was sound and serving as the campus hub, with administrative offices and the school library, it was something of an embarrassment. Just six months after it was completed in 1964 contractors were called back to replace the  

windows with ones that would, um, open and close. Years later students and staff inside the building were still gasping for air. 

“The ventilation in the building was atrocious at best,” said Berkeley Unified School District General Services Manager Judson Owens. “It was hot on hot days and cold on cold days.”  

Worse, the building that was supposed to mark the center of the campus was a maze of unmarked hallways that left parents and other visitors feeling disoriented and confused. 

“It was very difficult for people not familiar with the campus to find the library,” Owens said. 

Now, with glittering new facilities in place for Cragmont and Thousand Oaks elementary schools, it’s Berkeley High’s turn to watch some new buildings rise.  

A $29 million project, which began in January, will put two new buildings running the length of Milvia Avenue between Allston Way and Bancroft Way. The buildings will house administrative offices (currently in portable trailers), a new library and media center (many of the library’s book have been in off-campus storage since last year’s fire), and a student union and cafeteria – non-existent since the Loma Prieta earthquake. It will add three classrooms to a campus infamous for its crowded classrooms, and a new gymnasium and pool at a school where many sporting activities take place away from campus due to lack of facilities. 

“It will put the entire water polo and swimming and diving programs back on campus so they don’t have to use the Willard (Middle School facilities,” said Berkeley High Athletics Director Bob Traum. “You certainly want to have activities right here on campus,” Traum said, pointing to greater scheduling flexibility for teams and a more inviting atmosphere for spectators. 

In a decade of districtwide construction – ever since the passage a $158 million bond measure in 1992 – the Milvia project will be the biggest, Owens said.  

ELS, the Berkeley architecture firm chosen to design the buildings in 1997, won a design merit award from the Coalition for Adequate School Housing last year for its work on the project. 

One of the guiding principals in designing the buildings was the idea of creating a “front door to the school,” said ELS Project Manager David Petta. Under the plan a dramatic entrance at the corner of Milvia and Allston will give the school a recognizable public face, Petta said. 

Other user-friendly touches in the new buildings include a a new box office for the community theater just off Allston Way, marked by vertical glass corner of the building that will be illuminated at night to replicate the effect of a theater marquee; hardwood floors and wood paneled walls for the student union; and lots of floor to ceiling windows to draw light into the building. 

“Their are lots of natural wood finishes inside the (student union) to make it feel warm and comfortable so people will want to spend a lot of time there,” Petta said.  

On the outside the building will have an art deco appearance calculated to conform to the appearance of the community theater next door. In fact, the new buildings along Milvia will complete a master plan for the campus that was originally drafted in 1937. 

“We want to complete this master plan so the whole campus has one aesthetic image that is associated with Berkeley High,” said ELS Project Designer Ed Noland. Even the color of the new buildings will match the color of the existing G and H buildings that line the opposite side of the campus. 

Berkeley High students stood along Milvia Monday afternoon as a giant backhoe clawed out the insides of the old campus electric plant to make way for the new buildings. For many the new buildings are coming not a moment to soon. 

“The Berkeley High Buildings are awful,” said sophomore Kayla Lewis. “There’s graffiti everywhere and trash everywhere. They try painting the walls but the stuff’s been there forever.” 

Lewis said she’s repulsed by the schools old swimming pools and has to go to public libraries off campus to do research. 

Lewis’s only complaint about the construction project is that, as a sophomore, she’s “not even going to be here for (the new buildings).” 

Berkeley High principal Frank Lynch said it will probably be the fall of 2004 before the buildings are up and running.  

Still, said Lynch, “once the buildings start going up people will have the faith that they’re going to have something.”  

Lynch himself can hardly wait. 

“The library should be the hub of your campus,” Lynch said, adding “we hardly have any classroom space available at this moment (for the school to expand).” 

There is one thing about the new buildings, however, that school administrators are not wild about: the price tag. 

The building was budgeted at between $18 and $22 million in the early 90’s. With no significant changes to the plan that price had grown to $29 million by the time the contract finally went to bid in December of last year. 

“After the building was designed it went in for extensive review by the state,” said ELS’s Petta. “During that period the economy kept booming and drove (construction prices) higher and higher.”