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Berkeley High Library Will Reopen in January

Friday December 26, 2003

For Berkeley High Librarian Ellie Goldstein-Erickson, Christmas break is no vacation. 

On Tuesday morning, with students and teachers basking in a two-week recess, Goldstein-Erickson sloshed through puddles, working overtime to put the final touches on the school’s long-awaited new library—scheduled to open when students return Jan. 5. 

“It’s going to be magnificent,” she said. “I’m just hoping we can start services on the fifth.” 

Construction workers and specially trained, Dewey Decimal-literate library movers worked along side Goldstein-Erickson Tuesday, racing against the clock to complete the new library and administrative offices—the first stage of a $34 million campus development to finally come on line. 

After repeated setbacks, a new pool, dance studio, two gyms with a locker room and student union with a food court are scheduled to open in March, offering exciting new opportunities for students but tough choices for district officials who must find a way to staff the facilities despite a $2.4 million budget deficit. 

Completion of the library and administrative wing will mark the campus’s recovery from a 2000 arson fire that gutted the “B” Building and condemned the high school to nearly four years of administrative trailers, portable classrooms and a library better suited for an elementary school. 

Now, however, the library is set go from munchkin to marvel.  

Designed like a New York City loft, the roughly 12,000-square-foot space features windows that rise to the slanted wood paneled ceiling, oozing natural light even on an overcast morning. 

Yet after three years occupying two classrooms in the “H” building that held about 10,000 books and 70 students, Goldstein-Erickson focused on the facility’s practical benefits. 

The new library will house a computer lab, an instructional alcove for a teacher to give lessons on a computerized projector, a reading annex with soft, squishy chairs, an archive to store school memorabilia, a work room for librarians to process shipments and shelf space for about 40,000 books. 

“For the first time since the fire, we’ll have the whole collection back together again,” said Susie Goodin, a part-time district librarian who is coordinating the move. Over the past several years, she said, Berkeley has purchased books through a state grant but had to store many at East Campus along with older volumes because it lacked self space. 

There’s a hitch though. With the countdown on, the library is still incomplete: The computer room is missing its 41 computers, the furniture hasn’t been assembled, the floor is unwaxed, columns lack paneling, and there’s still no sign of the new circulation desk. 

The last-minute squeeze at the library is emblematic of the entire Milvia Street construction project, which has been beset with delays. Originally scheduled for completion in April, construction crews got off to a rough start when they discovered an old PG&E storage tank while digging. That delay was compounded by late deliveries of steel, pushing the due date for the project to this summer. 

A district decision to switch food service equipment and problems with subcontractors that missed deadlines or bailed on the project, among other delays, pushed the estimated completion date to January, and now March for the gym, dance studio, student union and pool, said Director of Facilities and Maintenance Lew Jones. 

When the work is done, the district will have to find $242,957 to staff the buildings—a tough pill to swallow considering the budget deficit. 

At last week’s school board meeting, the board, after a lengthy debate, voted 3-1-1 to approve funding for a new librarian to help manage the larger space and the equivalent of two new custodians and 2.66 new safety officers. 

When asked by Director Joaquin Rivera how she planned to pay for new staff, Superintendent Michele Lawrence intimated that the district would have to make cuts elsewhere. 

“There’s no magic bullets, here,” she said. “We have created a building over there and it has to be staffed.” 

Director Terry Doran took a different tack, saying the current staffing proposal amounted to “a skeletal crew,” and he fears that without adequate staff the buildings could deteriorate prematurely. 

Meanwhile, work continues at the library. Goodin said that wiring could be completed Tuesday, allowing them to set up the computer tables in advance of the computers that are due to arrive within two weeks. By that time the floor should be polished and the tables assembled, though it appears Goldstein-Erickson will have to start the new era with her old circulation desk, though that didn’t seem to faze her. 

“No matter what,” she said, “come Jan. 5, I’ll be here saying hello at the front door.”