BUSD Reaches Settlement in Old Gym Demolition Lawsuit

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 29, 2008

The Berkeley Unified School District reached a settlement with Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources Wednesday over the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit filed by the group a year ago. 

The group sued the district for an inadequate environmental impact report on the demolition of the gymnasium and warm-water pool within its Berkeley High School (BHS) South of Bancroft Master Plan.  

Both sides agreed on a charrette to discuss the adaptive reuse of the Berkeley High Old Gym and the warm-water pool, school district officials said Thursday. 

“We have reached a settlement agreement to go ahead and have a process with architects to gather input on the plan,” said Superintendent Bill Huyett. “I thought it was a fair settlement.” 

The lawsuit charged that the district had failed to consider feasible alternatives to demolition that could be developed to meet all or most of the district’s objectives and that the EIR “did not justify its findings.” 

“This lawsuit was hanging out there, and until that was determined we were probably not going to do anything about the Old Gym,” School Board President John Selawsky told the Planet Thursday. 

He added that he didn’t agree with what the lawsuit contended. “It’s not factually true,” he said. 

Marie Bowman, spokesperson for Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources, confirmed the group had agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in exchange for a charrette. 

“This would look at rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the Old Gym while considering the needs of Berkeley High as identified in the BHS South of Bancroft Master Plan,” she said. 

Bowman said she hoped the charrette would generate problem-solving ideas developed by preservation architects, designers and other professionals.  

“A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions as well as diffusing confrontational attitudes between developers and the community,” she said. “The results will be presented to the BUSD Board, during a public hearing, which will allow for written and oral public comment.” 

Selawsky said the charrette would help to present information from both sides. 

“My understanding is that we are bound legally to hold the charrette and take into account their considerations,” he said. “I understand that we are not bound legally to any outcome of that charrette ... The district is still the final decision maker.” 

He added that the demolition of the Old Gym was not scheduled till 2010. 

“We still have two years to discuss all the different possibilities,” he said. “Plans for demolition are still premature.” 

The school district recently hired ELS Architects to redesign the bleachers outside the track on Martin Luther King Jr. Way this summer and create a timeline for the demolition of the Old Gym. 

“At this time we only have enough funding to design the bleachers,” Selawsky said. 

The district’s South of Bancroft Master Plan calls for the demolition of the landmarked Old Gym to make room for new classroom facilities, with the option of relocating the warm-water pool to Milvia Street.  

Berkeley High is facing a severe space crunch, with teachers holding classes in portables at Washington Elementary School and on the steps of the Community Theatre. 

The city is currently looking at ways to develop the tennis courts on Milvia Street into a warm pool but has yet to come to an agreement with the school district about its use. 

The Berkeley High School campus, including the Old Gym, was named a City of Berkeley landmark last year and a national landmark in January. 

Designed by renowned Bay Area architects William C. Hays and Walter H. Ratcliff Jr., the warm-water pool and the gymnasium represent early seismic engineering work and are rare examples of an early 20th-century high school gymnasium.