Diamonds are forever, so the Berkeley Board of Education is starting small. It will build an open field.
Board directors voted unanimously to earmark $800,000 for an open athletic field design at the East Campus/ Derby Street site on Wednesday. The decision will end six years of disuse at a district-owned block, stretching from Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Milvia Street, and Derby and Carleton streets. Plans to develop a larger field at the site, which calls for the closure of Derby Street to make room for a regulation-sized baseball diamond, are still underway, Board President Terry Doran emphasized.
“For me, this is clearly a Phase One, and an interim project. The board has gone on the record stating that the preference is to have a larger, multi-purpose field that would include a baseball diamond and that would require closing of Derby Street,” he said. “(Directors) have not changed their mind about the ultimate field we desire to build on this site.”
The approved interim design, paid for in bond monies, reflects the bare minimum required to develop a functional playing field. It will consist of a grass expanse surrounded by a fence of a yet-to-be-determined height.
The plan requires the demolition of existing parking structures at the site’s north and south sides, new irrigation, re-grading and corrective drainage measures, and removal of electrical transformers.
Berkeley Unified School District students will have first dibs on field-use, but the community will also have access. Project completion is expected by fall, said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.
Speakers at Wednesday’s meeting were by-and-large thrilled to see the project move forward.
“I was delighted at the vote, and I look forward to participating in the design process,” said South Berkeley resident Susi Marzuola after the meeting.
Joy Moore, a health specialist from the Alternative High School, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Way at Ward Street, commended the project. Her students are predominantly at-risk youth who have been without a playing field for 10 years, she said.
“There is no opportunity for physical exercise” at BAHS, she said. “It’s more important that these kids get resources, because the district has already failed them.”
She presented the board with a petition in support of the open field, signed by 50 BAHS students.
Support was not unqualified, however. Both Linda Graham, a representative from the Berkeley Farmer’s Market, which is held each Tuesday on Derby Street, and Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque expressed concern for the project’s encroachment on parking and bathroom use. Farmer’s market vendors currently use portable facilities, and would like access to BAHS restrooms, Graham said.
Doran was unimpressed by the suggestion.
“As a school board responsible for the education of our students and facilities for students, it’s difficult to grapple with taking resources from students to provide restrooms for the community,” he said.
Board directors approved the project scope sans amendment, but will render further decisions in coming months, such as how high to build the fence and whom to hire as a project manager. The board will decide on the latter at an April 5 meeting.
Terms surrounding the long-range closed-street project are less clear. In February, the board approved $100,000 toward an estimated $200,000 environmental impact report that would investigate the effects of closing Derby Street. The report is on hold, however, because the school district wants the city of Berkeley to share the cost. The city has exclusive rights over street closures.
Coplan said there is a total of $1.3 million in bond money salted away for the East Campus field, which is not enough to cover the cost of the larger project.