A lawsuit filed by neighborhood opponents of the school district’s planned Adult School move to the former Franklin Elementary School site has no merit, Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Michele Lawrence said.
“We followed all requirements of laws and held numerous community meetings to work collaboratively with the community and still work in the best interests of the students we serve,” she said.
A pair of neighbors filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court against the district, charging that its environmental impact report failed to adequately mitigate their traffic concerns and ignored the second half of the district’s plan—moving district administration offices to the current Berkeley Unified Adult School housed at the district’s West Campus site at 1222 University Ave.
Berkeley City Manager Weldon Rucker—noting past statements by district officials linking the projects— had earlier urged the school board to reject the environmental report and conduct a new one that would study the impact at West Campus as well.
Lawrence said that any future use for West Campus was purely conjecture.
“It is perfectly reasonable for the superintendent to express ideas in an open forum. But they do not become subject to any type of legal ruling until the board decides those ideas have merit,” she said.
Neighbors at both the West Campus and Franklin sites have opposed the move, but the district argued the move is necessary to keep the Adult School viable. The dilapidated Adult School building requires a major retrofit that would take a few years of planning and construction, district officials said. During construction, school functions would have to be relegated to portable classrooms or some other smaller facility—and that would mean cutting classes and firing teachers.
Meanwhile, independent of the lawsuit, Adult School staff and students and neighbors will meet next week to consider changes to the controversial school site plan.
Neighbors have complained that the current plan will push new parking spaces right up against their homes and increase traffic on residential streets.
Among the six neighbors participating in the meeting will be Dietmar Lorenz, a Berkeley-based architect who designed an alternative plan, lauded by neighbors, that would orient the school towards its western edge at San Pablo Avenue and reconfigure its parking scheme.
“The current layout wastes space for a small amount of parking,” Lorenz said. “It was obvious from the beginning that we could just tweak that to package more cars in less space.”
Lorenz’s plan calls for using the additional space to plant shrubbery between the edges of the lot and adjacent homes to give neighbors a buffer and would create a pedestrian boardwalk from San Pablo Avenue to the school building to instill “a visual connection” between the proposed main entrance and the school.
Caleb Dardick, school district community relations consultant, said district officials are open to Lorenz’s ideas and have forwarded them to the district’s architectural firm.
“The architects are reviewing the plans,” he said. “We are open to improving the landscape design to come up with something everyone can be happy about.”
All plans hinge on both the outcome of the lawsuit and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) decision to permit a new driveway entrance on San Pablo—which they control as a state highway. Caltrans officials say they are open to the idea, but have not received sufficient information from the district to give approval.