Public Comment

Why BHS Classroom Construction Has Stalled

By Bruce Wicinas
Friday February 08, 2008

In 2000 Berkeley voters approved a $116.5 million bond to finance the continuation of the schools rebuilding program which had commenced in the early 1990s. Of the projects for which this bond was intended, adding classrooms at Berkeley High was the most urgent and the most expensive. After the election, Superintendent “Great Builder” Jack McLaughlin left the district. The new superintendent’s attention was aimed at budget issues judged more urgent than the commencement of new building projects. While the new superintendent was so consumed, things shifted. The perception of overcrowding at the high school was erased by a significant drop in the high school’s population and by the completion of the new building. Everyone agreed that the high school needed time to adjust to the great changes in its campus. The public lost interest in the overcrowding issue. The district, in turn, launched a master planning exercise—the latest of countless since the 1930s—to decide exactly how to resolve the south of Bancroft portion of the campus. Subsequent construction at the high school was hitched to a slow but accountable decision process. 

Fast-forward to the present. The dollars originally allocated to the BHS classrooms have been preserved. But the world and the campus have changed. Construction inflation has reduced the potency of the dollars. The Berkeley High master plan has proposed a succession of projects to resolve the southern half of the campus. The execution of the master plan is currently on hold due to preservationists’ concerns regarding the fate of the “old gym” building and by community concern about the fate of the warm pool. The “old gym” occupies the only location where the new classrooms could be built. The “old gym,” comparable in age and in construction quality to King Junior High, would be prodigiously expensive to modernize, as was King Junior High. The renewal of concern about the inventory of classrooms at Berkeley High is very recent relative to the tectonic movement of the school building program. 

The funds preserved since 2000 for added classrooms will not be sufficient to realize the entire Berkeley High master plan. But this school district is rich in citizen creativity. 

The School Board, the Facilities Department and the Citizen’s Construction Advisory Committee (CCAC) have faithfully minded all this since the 1990s. The budgets, the projects and the priorities are reviewed every month. School construction has been a lower priority for the current (outgoing) administration than for the prior. But it has been a lower priority in the public’s consciousness as well. For those interested in how the figures currently stand, we’ll post (by the time this letter appears) some recent figures on the hand-made web page of the CCAC at 


Bruce Wicinas is chair of the Citizens’ Construction Advisory Committee of Berkeley Unified School District.