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District Plays Musical Chairs With School, Office Buildings

Tuesday April 15, 2003

It’s a classic switcheroo — a four-way building swap that is leaving West Berkeley residents a little dizzy. 

The Berkeley Unified School District administrative offices now reside at Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The district rents the building for a $1 per year from the City of Berkeley. But the lease runs out in 2009, and the city wants Old City Hall back. 

On the other side of town, the school system’s maintenance operation sits in a seismically unsafe building on Oregon Street, and officials want to move it to a safer location. 

Fortunately, the district has a large, empty building on the corner of Virginia Street and San Pablo Avenue in West Berkeley — the old City of Franklin Elementary School, shut down last year in the midst of a budget crisis. 

Seems simple enough — just move the administration and maintenance operations to the Franklin building, right? Wrong.  

Instead, the district wants to move its Adult School, on University Avenue, into the Franklin building, and put administration and maintenance in the University Avenue building. 

It would actually be a neat little triangle, district officials said — the district would renovate the Franklin site next year; move the Adult School into the spiffed-up building in time for the 2004-2005 school year, then fix an aging Adult School building and move in the administration and maintenance operations. 

There is a problem, though — some Franklin neighbors aren’t so keen on the idea of an Adult School in the area. Late-night classes, traffic jams and parking headaches are all concerns.  

Many said they would prefer to have district administrators, who presumably would have a smaller impact, in their backyard. 

School officials said they are sensitive to neighborhood concerns and emphasize that no final decision on the building shuffle has been made. But the Board of Education, scheduled to vote on a final plan this summer, is leaning toward placing the Adult School at the Franklin site, they said. 

“I think everyone’s trying to keep an open mind, but thinking this makes sense,” said Board of Education Director Nancy Riddle. 

Still, some residents said a neat-and-tidy construction schedule is not a compelling reason to put the Adult School at Franklin. 

“I’m not convinced the Adult School should be here,” said Steen Jensen, a Curtis Street resident. 

City Councilmember Linda Maio, echoing several neighbors, added that the school district might better serve the community if it kept the Adult School on University Avenue. 

“University Avenue has many buses come and [the building] is very visible,” she said. “People can see what classes are available.” 

School board Director Terry Doran said the argument is compelling, but argued that San Pablo Avenue, where the Franklin school sits, is also a major traffic corridor, well-served by BART. 

If the Adult School must go in their neighborhood, residents said they will push the district to build an entrance to the building on San Pablo Avenue, as opposed to one of the side streets. 

School officials said they are open to the idea. 

“It’s a very reasonable thing and I think we have to look at that,” said Lew Jones, the district’s manager of facilities planning. 

Berkeley voters, with the passage of two separate ballot measures in the past 11 years, provided the district with almost $275 million for construction projects — including $10.3 million to renovate the Franklin site and $9.1 million to overhaul the Adult School building on University Avenue. 

The district has already spent $3.2 million on Franklin and $440,000 on the Adult School, according to Jones.