Demolished Preschool Awaits New Building

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 01, 2008

The remnants of a red and yellow toy train mark the spot where the redwood building housing the King Child Development Center at 1939 Ward St. used to be.  

A bobcat hovers around in the background, clearing up debris in the cold January rain. 

There are no shrieks of joy from pre-schoolers, no parents bustling around to fuss over them after school. But all that will soon change. 

A notice put up by the Berkeley Unified School District informs passersby that the old building has been demolished and a brand new one will be ready for students in August. 

An artist’s rendering of the proposed structure—consisting of six classrooms, an administrative building and a garden—gives an idea of what will occupy this gaping hole across the street from the derelict Berkeley Iceland. 

Plans for the demolition and reconstruction of the King Child Development Center on Ward Street, as well as the Franklin Para Nursery at 1460 Sixth St., had been in place since Berkeley voters approved Measure AA, under then-Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, in November 2000. 

After district officials visited the Ward Street site and declared it to be in a state of disrepair last year, the Berkeley Board of Education hired WLC Architects in March to create a plan for the new buildings. 

The board in June unanimously approved the demolition and the proposed reconstruction, estimated to cost the district $6.4 million in bond funds. 

“The district applied for funding for seismic retrofit of all the schools right after the Loma Prieta earthquake,” said Jon Santoro, former director of Berkeley Unified’s early childhood education program. “For some reason the plans for developing the early childhood program were put on hold ... I am glad it’s finally been done. The buildings were not habitable for children. They were rotting.” 

Lew Jones, the district’s director of facilities, told the Planet that the district had decided to upgrade a host of facilities between 2000 and 2010. 

“The board votes on a yearly basis on what projects to approve,” he said. “Last year it was Franklin and King.” 

District superintendent Michele Lawrence, who retires today (Friday), visited the sites in June and discussed plans with the schools’ staff about their temporary relocation this year to Malcolm X, West Campus and the Berkeley Arts Campus. The program was moved to these locations in July to prepare for the demolition. 

Calls from the Planet for comment on the project were not returned by Lawrence, who was attending a conference in Monterey. 

“The district determined that the facilities could not be renovated from a cost and space effective perspective,” said school board president John Selawsky. “It made sense to just start over. We decided on modular buildings because they were within our budget and the students would be able to get back to their old schools within a year.” 

Selawsky said that the planned prefabricated buildings, which will have metal roofs and stucco walls, would first have to be approved by the Division of the State Architect. 

According to Jones, the King buildings were built from hazardous materials. 

“Franklin caught fire a couple of years ago and we had to remove two out of the five classrooms,” he said. “The proposed project will have the same number of classrooms as King. Everything else will also be the same. Only the layout will be different.” 

King, which currently houses up to 84 children, would grow to 144 with the new plan.  

King old timers reminisced about the former redwood building during class Thursday. 

“They can say what they want about it but we made it work,” said Margie Kirk, who retired last year after teaching at the center for 27 years. “It helped a lot of young single parents and taught a lot of good things to children.” 

In the same breath she added that it was time for it to come down. 

“We are going to get a new building, so sacrifices have to be made for a few months,” she said. 

Alma Barrios, who teaches 3-year-olds at King, said that the transition to Malcolm X—where the kids occupy four after-school classrooms—had gone off smoothly. 

“There were a few minor hitches initially but parents and teachers were very responsive all over,” she said. “We are excited about moving into a new building.” 

LaSonia McCain, who took over from Santoro last year, said that teachers had wanted spacious classrooms for their students. 

“A place where they can play and get prepared for kindergarten,” she said. 

“We are moving into more academic goals now and trying to combine both play and child development. Teachers also wanted a building to collaborate and plan out their activities. For the small inconvenience that all of us will have to put up, we will get something better. As for the parents, the only thing they are concerned about is when their children can move into the new space.” 



Photograph by Riya Bhattacharjee. 

A train climbing structure is all that’s left of the King Child Development Center.