Berkeley School District Sued Over Warm Water Pool EIR

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 02, 2007

The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) was sued by Friends Protecting Berkeley's Resources (FPBR) Friday for an inadequate environmental impact report (EIR) on the demolition of the gymnasium and warm water pool within its Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan. 

“The lawsuit is a CEQA challenge in the public interest to enforce environmental laws protecting the historic 1922 Berkeley High School gymnasium and warm water pool,” said Susan Brandt-Hawley, of Brandt-Hawley Law Group—the environmental and preservation law firm representing FPBR—in a telephone interview with the Planet from Washington D.C. 

BUSD superintendent Michel Lawrence told the Planet on Wednesday that the school district had not taken a look at the lawsuit yet. 

“The only thing we have been notified about is that a lawsuit has been filed. We don’t know why it has been filed or what their intentions are. We cannot speculate about anything at the moment,” she said. 

Brandt-Hawley described The Friends as a newly formed group of concerned citizens who came together earlier this year to protect Berkeley’s resources. 

According to the lawsuit, “the District was urged to further consider feasible alternatives to demolition that could be developed to meet all or most of the District's objectives” but “the EIR did not justify its findings.” 

The Berkeley school board voted unanimously on January 17, 2007, to accept the Berkeley High School EIR on the Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan and to approve the Master Plan for the project. 

The approval signals the beginning of 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. 

Marie Bowman, a member of FPBR, described the gymnasium and the warm water pool as a “jewel in the crown of Berkeley.” 

“It’s not just a cultural and historical resource but also a community resource. There’s no doubt about it. It’s confusing why the school district would want to tear down such an asset,” she said. 

Berkeley voters approved a ballot measure in 2000 for $3,250,000 to reconstruct, renovate, repair and improve the warm water pool facilities, including the restrooms and locker space.  

“In spite of approving funds for improving this beautiful building, nothing has been done about it yet,” Bowman told the Planet. 

The School District proposes in its Master Plan to demolish the old gymnasium that houses the warm water pool at the very end of the project, which they say will give them time to work on a plan with the city to save the pool. 

“It’s not clear what the BUSD is proposing to do with the city, or if anything will be done at all. What guarantee is there after what happened with the ballot measure in 2000 that they will save the pool?” Bowman said. 

The warm pool is used by hundreds of seniors, disabled adults and children, as well as by athletes recovering from sports injuries and rehabilitation patients who use the pool for physical therapy. 

Designed by renowned Bay Area architects William C. Hays and Walter H. Ratcliff Jr., the warm water pool and the gymnasium are both eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. 

Both are representative of early seismic engineering work and are rare examples of an early 20th century high school gymnasium. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will receive an application to landmark the Berkeley High School gymnasium and warm water pool on April 5.