The Berkeley school board voted unanimously on Wednesday to accept the Berkeley High School environmental impact report on the Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan and to approve the Master Plan project.
With the approval begins the process of selecting a committee to hire an architect for the proposed construction of the South of Bancroft project.
The Master Plan involves the southern part of the campus at 1980 Allston Way and the adjacent school-district-owned parking lot on Milvia Street.
Supporters of the warm water pool, which is currently located in the Berkeley High School Gym, asserted the importance of saving the pool, which is a lifeline for the disabled community in Berkeley.
“The warm pool will provide more than life-saving opportunities,” said Berkeley resident Anne Marks. “It’s not just the elderly, but also the disabled students who benefit from it. Lease it, sell it, give it, but work with the city to acquire land for the pool.”
Daniel Radman, a disabled community member, quoted from “Soakin’ the Blues Away, Voices of the Warm Pool,” a manuscript written over the last five months at the pool.
“The book has 170 separate testimonials from people whose lives have been saved by the pool. Every page illustrates why closing it could endanger the lives of many,” Radman said.
Dedicated to Fred Lupke, who fought to save the warm pool until his death, the collection tells the stories of people of all ages who depend on the pool.
Allen Miller, a BHS teacher and treasurer of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, told the board that approving the EIR was critical since it would enable construction.
“Teachers are sharing classrooms. BHS classes are being held at portables across from Washington Elementary and in the wings of the Community Theatre. These are not proper teaching conditions. The situation has got to improve,” Miller said.
“There is a way that you can build a pool and have all the facilities constructed as well. You don’t need to pit the teachers against the community,” said BHS soccer coach Eugenio Janu Juarez amidst applause from community members.
“The board is not your enemy,” School Board Director John Selawsky told the audience.
He added that Phase I of the construction timeline would take up to three to four years during which the pool could be used by the community, while the city and the district worked on a solution.
“If we can’t solve the problem in three to four years, we can never solve it. I am willing to meet with the city and the community to talk about the issue. But currently there are no funds that can be used toward moving the pool,” Selawsky said.
Wendy Markel, President of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), submitted a letter to the board which stated that “discussion of alternatives in the final EIR had not been adequate,” especially after the Carey & Co. consultant report that the “old gym was a significant historic resource”
Lew Jones, Director of Facilities for the BUSD, told the board that although the proposed demolition of the old gym would impair its architectural significance, it would be less expensive than rehabilitating it.
“It’s not just a seismic issue, there are other deficiencies with retaining the gym. A full rehabilitation of the building would cost $25 million,” Jones said.
The plan includes a building program with construction of approximately 69,000 square feet of building space, to be carried out in at least three phases.
The proposed construction includes athletic and physical education facilities, classrooms, space for Facilities Department services and storage, surface parking and possible structured parking, and changes to campus landscaping.
The proposed project would require demolition of the existing old gym on Milvia Street and would provide the City of Berkeley an opportunity to construct a replacement warm water pool on district-owned property.
A draft EIR for the project was issued by the district on Sept. 26 through November 9, 2006, and a Responses to Comments report was prepared to respond to public comments received on the draft EIR which is available for review at the Berkeley Main Library.
According to the report submitted by the school board, the project would enable BHS to provide 10 to 15 new classrooms to replace the 17 classrooms lost after the demolition of Building B and it would increase the amount of on-campus outdoor physical education space, specifically providing a regulation-size softball field and a flexible outdoor athletic quadrant.
The board also unanimously approved the recommendation of the Surplus Facilities Committee to declare the entire BUSD-owned Hillside site surplus to the district’s educational needs.
With this approval, the district can now seek purchasers or long-term tenants for the site.
After Hillside—one of the first schools to be built in Berkeley—was closed down because it was built atop seismic fault traces, BUSD has been renting out the property to a Montessori House for the last fifteen years. The Field Act prohibits classroom structures from being built on earthquake faults.
The board also approved the South Berkeley Community Mural Project that will place murals along the fence at Malcolm X Elementary School and congratulated its participants.
Vavrinek Trine Day & Co. presented an Independent Audit Report and Financial Statements for the BUSD for fiscal year ending June 30, 2006, which the board accepted.
The district’s net assets were $52.3 million and $37.2 million for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2006 and 2005 respectively. The report showed that the district had an unrestricted fund balance of $3.6 million on June 30, 2006.
District Superintendent Michele Lawrence informed board members on Wednesday that BUSD’s legal representative would be defending the Berkeley Board of Education’s position on the School Assignment System in Court on January 31.
In 2006, the BUSD Student Assignment Plan had come under attack when the Pacific Legal Foundation had charged BUSD with a lawsuit which charged the school district with “violating California’s Proposition 209 by using race as a factor to determine where students are assigned to public schools and to determine whether they gain access to special educational programs.”