School Board Member Terry Doran stakes out the high ground in “We Want It for the Kids,” his Nov. 15 Daily Planet commentary, and we have to agree with his basic points. Berkeley kids need better sports facilities, and they need them now. They need good multi-purpose fields that will take the pressure off of existing fields such as San Pablo Park. Central Berkeley is short on open space and the Derby Street site is a unique opportunity to address this need. Decisions regarding the future of this site should be based first and foremost on meeting the recreational and athletic needs of the full range of the Berkeley Unified School District kids.
So far so good, but let’s be clear that the only purpose for closing Derby Street is to make the geometry work for a full sized hardball baseball field with 320-foot-long foul lines.
Closing Derby Street does not create more green space or increase the size of the multi-purpose field. To accommodate the continued operation of the Farmers’ Market, the closed-street plan requires construction of a new paved area equal to the existing street, resulting in a field area no larger than what would exist in an open-street plan.
Closing Derby Street does not provide good multi-use facilities. The baseball field requires a large dirt infield and wide foul areas. Due to the limited space and mismatched geometry, the proposed multi-purpose field—which would be used for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey for most of the year—overlaps the dirt infield, creating an unworkable situation for sports other than baseball.
And finally, closing Derby Street and building a regulation baseball field is a major public works project which cannot be done on the cheap. When all the soft costs and contingencies are included, the school district’s own estimates indicate the closed-street plan will cost approximately 2.5 million more than an open-street plan, and quite possibly more.
Certainly the students who play baseball could use better, more reliable facilities, and there are cost-effective alternatives for accommodating Berkeley High home games, notably the new single-use, night-lit baseball field planned as part of the Gilman Fields, a project spearheaded by Mayor Bates. The Open Derby Street Plan developed by the community and school district earlier this year provides an excellent multi-purpose field for soccer, lacrosse, filed hockey, and club sports as well as practice facilities for the baseball team while maintaining much of the green open space along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, all without closing Derby Street. This open-street, multi-use facility can be designed and constructed for something close to the actual BUSD funds available for the project, without any additional funding from the city.
Mr. Doran’s letter suggests that closing Derby Street is the best way to provide a “beautiful park” in central Berkeley. That should definitely be the goal. But the reality of the Closed Derby Street Plan will be a playing field hemmed in by tall fences and bordered by 36,000 square feet of concrete and asphalt running the length of the frontage on MLK Jr. Way—also surrounded by fencing to keep basketballs out of the street. On the other hand, the Open Derby Street Plan provides a multi-purpose field with lower fences, a single basketball court on MLK, and space left over for community amenities or passive open space. In our view, the Open Derby Street Plan yields a much more beautiful result.
Pursuit of a baseball field has stalled improvements of this site for a number of years. Berkeley students have grown to adulthood during the delay. As neighbors, as architects and as parents of Berkeley students we respectfully encourage the School Board members and the City Council to carefully examine the proposals for this site and consider which alternative makes the most effective use of limited resources, produces the greatest benefit for the most students, and is the better plan for the neighborhood in the context of the whole city. We believe that consideration points toward construction of an affordable, truly multi-purpose facility that leaves Derby Street open.
Peter Waller and Susi Marzuola are Berkeley residents.