Staff Recommends Scaled-Down West Campus By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday June 28, 2005

Officially acknowledging the growing controversy over the proposed West Campus renovation, the Berkeley Unified Facilities director is recommending that the BUSD board of directors reject the West Campus facilities plan developed by Design Community & Environment (DCE) planners and adopt in its place a scaled-down plan written by district staff. 

The recommendation comes to the board at its last meeting before the summer break, to be held this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in downtown Berkeley. 

In addition, the board will consider a recommendation by Superintendent Michele Lawrence to suspend the district’s school name-changing policy until a new policy can be put in place. 

In a memo to Lawrence on the West Campus issue, Jones writes that the DCE plan is “significantly over the available budget,” and says that “it is evident that certain elements of the plan should be studied in greater detail before we proceed. Further study of a day-lighted creek, the buildings and grounds department and a potential private development should be undertaken.” Jones adds that “it is also possible that a need for a central kitchen is not as desirable as it once was.” 

According to Jones, the alternate, staff-developed plan “would only include modifications to the north east section of the site that will house classrooms for a student alternative learning center, the student independent study program, teacher training, public board meeting room and staff development areas and typical administration functions.” Jones writes that “some parking would be needed,” but in the proposed alternative staff plan, parking “would be reduced in size from the original plan.” 

Last March, under a contract from the district, Berkeley-based DCE began holding a series of five public meetings to develop proposals for the mostly-vacant, six-and-a-half-acre 10-building West Campus site on University Avenue between Bonar and Curtis streets. Central to the proposed development were plans to house the district’s administrative operations—presently working out of the Old City Hall—as well as activities presently housed at the district’s Oregon/Russell street property. 

But the process immediately degenerated into angry question and answer sessions, with resident complaints about elements of the proposed DCE plan even before it was put on paper, city officials vowing to fight for alterations, and disagreement over whether the city or the school district would have jurisdiction over the site’s development. 

In his memo, Jones says that the adoption of the staff’s proposed plan “would continue our progress in the goal of evacuating employees from less than desirable facilities” while the more controversial areas of the DCE proposal “can be debated and further studied.” 

Meanwhile, in her recommendation to suspend the district’s school name change policy, Superintendent Lawrence is moving swiftly to prevent a repeat of the recent Jefferson Elementary School debate which began two years ago with a school-based petition to drop Jefferson’s name from the school because of his ties to slavery, and ended last week with an emotional 3-2 vote to keep the name. 

Lawrence has called the district name-changing policy “flawed,” and School Board President Nancy Riddle has agreed, but said that board members had decided not to make changes while the Jefferson name change campaign was ongoing for fear of being accused of trying to sway the school community vote one way or the other. 

Board Vice President Terry Doran and Director Shirley Issel, who voted on opposite sides of the Jefferson Elementary name change proposal, have said that they are already working on a revised name change policy. 

In other action scheduled for Wednesday’s board meeting, directors will be asked to approve tentative contract agreements with the district’s five labor unions. Request for approval of the agreements had been placed on last week’s board agenda, but was held off because the agreements must first be approved by the Alameda County Office of Education..