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BUSD Says Derby Might Be Closed By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday August 26, 2005

The Berkeley school board kept the option of closing a portion of Derby Street alive for its East Campus properties Wednesday night. 

The board directed district Facilities Director Lew Jones to continue his investigation of how the street could be closed between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way and a regulation-size high school baseball field put on the site. 

The sole board dissenter to the plan to move forward was Board Director John Selawsky, a vocal opponent of the closed-Derby plan. Selawsky noted what he called the “huge gap” between the estimated $4.3 million cost of a closed-Derby plan and the approximately $920,000 available in the district budget for the project. He accused fellow board members of “engaging in wishful thinking, and wishful thinking doesn’t pay the contractor. There’s some denial going on here.” 

Terry Doran, board vice president, who said he has “probably been the most aggressive in bringing this project before the board,” defended the board’s actions in continuing the investigation of closing Derby. 

“I have always been up front that I saw the open Derby plan as a temporary, interim solution, and that we were also looking at the long-term solution of closing Derby Street and putting a regulation-size baseball diamond on that site,” he said. 

At the meeting, residents of the East Campus area—many of who oppose the closed-Derby plan—praised the district for demolishing the East Campus buildings on the site. Several residents drew laughter from board members and the audience alike as they describe how “delightful” it was to watch the buildings come down. 

Neighbor Michael Ray described the former condition of the East Campus properties as a “decrepit space.” 

But Wednesday night’s meeting also showed the continuing contentious nature of the issue, with Andrew King, a neighbor of the properties, describing it as a struggle “between the community and these rather obscure, radical forces from outside the community.” 

Board Director Joaquin Rivera said that he “took issue with that comment.” 

He said that ball field proponents were not radical, “but they are certainly passionate about their position, just as the neighbors are passionate about theirs. And they are not from outside the community. They are Berkeley residents. Calling them that is no service to the truth.” 

Board President Nancy Riddle added that both sides “should not marginalize each other by derogatory remarks.” 

BUSD holds properties on two city blocks bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street to the west and east, Carleton and Ward streets on the north and south, and divided by Derby Street down the middle. The Berkeley Alternative High School sits on the southern parcel of the two properties. The old East Campus facilities used to sit on the northern parcel, but over the summer the district had those facilities razed, leaving small piles of steel and concrete that will soon be removed. On Tuesday afternoons, Derby Street is closed between the two properties to accommodate the Berkeley Farmers Market. 

At the board’s direction, WLC Architects of Emeryville has produced two proposals for the properties, an open-Derby Street option that would center around a multi-purpose athletic field for the northern parcel, and a closed-Derby Street option that would include a regulation-sized baseball field. 

Both plans include the building of basketball courts, a relocation of the Farmers Market from the street to a dedicated space on the property, and the building of other facilities for community use, and both plans include keeping the Berkeley Alternative High School on its present site on the southern portion of the properties. Preliminary figures submitted by WLC Architects have put the cost of what is called a “bare bones” open Derby Plan—with the multi-purpose field only, and no other amenities—at close to $950,000, while the estimate for the total closed Derby Plan—with the baseball field and all the amenities—was set at $4.3 million. 

But those figures appeared to be in some flux. District officials were unsure of what street closure costs might eventually be absorbed by the city. Facilities Director Jones said that approximately $1.3 million of that $4.3 million figure came from costs of closing Derby Street for one block. 

The board directed Jones to work out some discrepancies in the two plans and to present a budget for a “bare bones” closed-Derby Street plan without the extra amenities so the two plans can be compared on an equal basis. Jones was also to present an estimate of how much it would cost to build a multi-purpose field on the northern parcel of the properties and then later to have Derby Street closed to built a regulation baseball field on the entire site. 

The board also told Jones that preparation of the southern portion of the property for multi-purpose field use by Berkeley High athletic teams—including seeding of grass and construction of a drainage system—would not go forward until those budget figures are brought back to the board, preliminarily scheduled for Sept. 21. Riddle called such a delay “fiscally prudent.” 

Jones said that he and WLC representatives have met in recent weeks with city officials to discuss the closed-Derby plan. He said that the proposed plan presented by WLC Wednesday night included two additions requested by Berkeley Fire Department representatives: the inclusion of a fire lane on the property, and the installation of a traffic light at Carleton Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way that could be controlled by the department to clear the way for fire trucks answering a call. The Fire Department uses Derby Street as a throughway to MLK to respond to fires.