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School construction delayed five months

David Scharfenberg
Tuesday September 17, 2002

Construction of the $34 million Milvia Buildings at Berkeley High School is five months behind schedule and at least one of the two structures will probably not open by next school year, district officials said. 

“We’ve been struggling with trying to maintain the schedule,” said Lew Jones, manager of facilities planning for the Berkeley Unified School District. 

Last year the project was set back when crews discovered an old PG&E storage tank, among other problems, while digging. Delays in the delivery of steel also slowed progress, he said. 

The district and the contractor, Arntz Builders of Novato, will push to open the northern building, which will house administrative offices, a cafeteria, a new library and five classrooms, by the start of next school next year, Jones said. 

But the southern building, including a new pool, dance studio, two basketball courts and a locker room, will likely open a month later, in October, he said. That won’t be a problem because the high school already has a pool and gym. 

Construction of the two new buildings on Milvia Street on the east end of campus began in February 2001 and was slated for completion in April 2003. 

Deborah Palmer, project manager for Arntz Builders, said the steel supplier, Roscoe Steel of Billings, Mont., is not to blame for the delivery delays that have held up the project.  

At the heart of the problem, Palmer said, were flaws in building plans by ELS Architecture and Urban Design of Berkeley that forced Berkeley Unified to alter its steel orders. 

Ed Noland, associate principle of ELS, said the steel issues emerged after the state’s Department of the Architect called for a stronger building. The state’s input was a “valuable process” that will ultimately ensure the safety of Berkeley High students, Noland said. 

Parents advising the district on construction said they have been pleased with the progress of the project. 

“Things are going smoothly,” said Bruce Wicinas, a member of the Citizens’ Construction Advisory Committee, noting that the project has sparked an interest in architecture and building among students. 

Bill Savidge of the Site Facilities Committee said his group is “totally excited” about the project and praised school officials for working well with parents. But, he said, last year the district was distracted by pressing issues like accreditation at Berkeley High, and did not focus sharply on the facilities.  

The parent committee, Savidge said, is pushing the district to clarify its food services plan for the new cafeteria and take a hard look at its budget for furniture in the library and common areas. 

“They have a really limited budget for furnishings,” Savidge said. 

Jones said there is probably enough money to pay for the furniture. But, he added, high school administrators, who must decide exactly how much they want to spend, have not yet come up with a figure.  

The district has several other high school construction projects in the pipeline, including a revamp of the gymnasium, an upgrade of the warm water pool and a transformation of the space formerly occupied by Berkeley High’s “B” Building, which burned down in April 2000. 

The “B” Building space is covered with asphalt and community members are pushing for a green space in its place. 

Jones said a green space is likely but said that all the projects in the pipeline are on hold until the district finishes building the Milvia Buildings. Then it must assess its construction budget and space needs at Berkeley High. 

The district has spent $50,000 on a facilities study that will analyze its space needs districtwide. Jones said he hopes to present a report at the Board of Education’s Sept. 25 or Oct. 9 meeting. 

Savidge said space allocation throughout campus could be complicated by Berkeley High’s plan to shift to a series of schools-within-a-school in fall 2003.