School Board Delays Approving Firm to Demolish Berkeley High Old Gym

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday November 20, 2007

The Berkeley Board of Education held back last week from approving Emeryville-based Baker Vilar Architects to plan the demolition of the Berkeley High School old gym due to the lack of a timeline for the project. 

The board voted unanimously for the firm to design the school’s new bleachers and asked district staff to prepare a timeline for the demolition of the gym.  

The district will pay Baker Vilar $900,000 from the bond fund for the projects. 

School board vice president John Selawsky said he had received calls from community members concerned about the lack of a specific timeline for the projects. 

“There is not much information here,” he said. “We should pay attention to them separately as it’s a two-way process. The public deserves some notification.” 

The first two phases of the Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master plan—which include construction of a bleacher building with athletic lockers underneath, the construction of a small facilities building off Channing Way, a small set of bleachers and restrooms on the west side of the football field, and the demolition of the old gym and existing bleachers—were approved at a school board meeting in September. 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence said that the demolition was a long-term process. 

“I do understand the concern and the need for information but nothing is going to happen here within the next three months that’s going to affect the demolition of the gym,” she said. 

Board member Karen Hemphill asked for the name of the contractor who would be doing the actual demolition. 

“I haven’t seen a contract yet,” she said. “I have been to that gym. It would be good option to maximize whatever can be salvaged.” 

The State Historical Resources Commission unanimously approved the nomination for the Berkeley High School campus to be listed on the National Register as a historic district earlier this month. The proposed historic district includes the old gym, itself the subject of a landmarking battle. 

The Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources—the group responsible for writing the nomination—had sued the school district in March for what it charged was an inadequate environmental impact report on the demolition of the gymnasium and warm water pool within its master plan. 

Warm pool users are also opposed to the proposed demolition, which they feel threatens their use of the pool. 

Berkeley High principal Jim Slemp, along with a group of high school administrators, teachers, parents and students, was responsible for selecting Baker Vilar from among four firms. The firm took over the King Dining Commons project in April after its original architect defaulted on the contract causing delays and additional costs of up to $46,000.