Berkeley may pass up a golden opportunity to enhance the quality of life for our children by not moving to build the largest possible, multi-purpose field at Derby Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. We are not talking about a “Big League” baseball field, but a multi-purpose field to be used by high school soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and baseball players, as well as the neighbors. Money, of course, is the key, but I can’t believe our community cannot come up with a creative means to fund this great project by using already committed school district funds, City of Berkeley funds and money from both public and private organizations.
The Berkeley Unified School District, in our master facilities construction plan for the entire district, dedicated $1.6 million for a playing field on our Derby Street property. We have already removed the old buildings and graded the land. The cost figures, presented to the School Board on Oct. 5 estimated the remaining costs to build the largest possible multi-purpose field to be $2.7 million, not $4.9 million. This means that with approximately $1.5 million more, we can complete this project.
Right now hundreds of children around San Pablo Park are deprived of recreational programs in their neighborhood because of the overuse of this park by city users and sports teams from Berkeley High School. Innumerable studies have been conducted by the City of Berkeley documenting the abysmal lack of playing fields and recreational facilities in our city that adversely affect our children. And these studies, over a 15-year period, have identified the land around Derby Street as a prime source of starting to rectify this tragic situation. And central Berkeley needs more open space, the larger, the better.
By closing Derby Street and moving the farmers market to a dedicated spot along Martin Luther King Jr. Way between Derby Street and Carelton Street (which would be larger than its present location just a few feet away), a multi-purpose field could be built that compliments the existing, small athletic facilities at Berkeley High School, reduces dramatically the overuse of San Pablo Park, and provides a new, beautiful park in Ccentral Berkeley.
Of course, when there are changes in land use and the closing of a street, the impacts must be studied and any negative results of these changes must be addressed. And the concerns of neighbors must be seriously taken into account, and they have been and will continue to be addressed.
However, we must also make our decision based on the best interests of our city as a whole because this will be a city treasure, not just a neighborhood entity.
I, for one, along with four out of five of the other School Board members (this includes the student member of the school board), have made our position known by voting to work with the city and the wider community to close Derby Street and build the largest possible multi-purpose field for our children, and their children.
Please join with us in making this possible. Let your elected officials know you want the best for our children and help us find the will, and the money, to make this possible.
Terry Doran is a member of the Berkeley School Board.