Neighbors Nix Plan to Paint John Muir School Blue and Green; BHS Gets International Program

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 18, 2008

Objections from the Berkeley Landmarks Commission and the Elmwood-Claremont Neighborhood Association over the Berkeley Unified School District’s proposal to paint John Muir Elementary School blue and green forced the Berkeley Board of Education to reject the proposed colors and stick to its original scheme instead. 

The school—a prominent structure in the Claremont-Elmwood district for the last 90 years—was designed in Tudor style by renowned architect James Placheck under the supervision of Walter Ratcliff Jr. The City of Berkeley landmarked the building in 1983. 

At its March 6 meeting, the Landmarks Commission voted to ask the school board to rethink the proposed color scheme. 

Board members said that the blue and green chessboard pattern would clash with the neighborhood’s architecture and upset residents.  

Some said that painting a building green did not mean that it would reduce its carbon footprint. 

Community members also protested the proposed changes in letters to the school board.  

District spokesperson Mark Coplan told the Planet that the school site committee—responsible for color schemes—was not legally obligated to obey the landmarks commission. 

“However, when Superintendent Bill Huyett heard that the neighbors didn’t want it, he suggested that we keep the original colors,” he said. 

In her letter to the school board, Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association secretary Doris E. Willingham quoted from Susan Cerny’s book Berkeley Landmarks. 

“For close to a century the elegant, handsome building has seen thousands of Berkeley children go through its doors since opening in 1916,” she said in her e-mail to the board. “According to Cerny, the ‘English half-timbered’ building style was ‘meant to convey a friendly and informal atmosphere, and to harmonize with the surrounding residential neighborhood.’ And indeed John Muir School projects the charm and warmth of a private residence rather than the often cold, forbidding look of an institutional building. Moreover, and again according to Cerny, the school’s setting among trees near Harwood Creek reflected the philosophy of a California ‘open air’ school that was popular in those days.” 

Willingham described the “playskool color scheme chosen for John Muir” as inappropriate for both the school building and the neighborhood. 

“It would rob the building of its dignity and beauty, defile our neighborhood, and subject the school district, and indeed the City of Berkeley, to ridicule,” she said. “We do not need this ‘only in Berkeley’ venture into color for a venerable building of this style.” 

Wendy Markel, another member of the neighborhood association, said she was “absolutely horrified” by the idea of changing the school into a “recalled Mattel Barbie doll palace.” 

“Who on earth heard of a Tudor-style building with green boxes!,” she said in her letter to the board. “And the window mullions would be painted light blue! I do wonder what advice the school district has been seeking ... John Muir is part of the neighborhood and the site principal should be aware of this. Certainly the school board has the responsibility of supervising the school site, but in the final analysis it is the tax dollars paid by Berkeley citizens that will pay the bill. We are here as stewards of the past and caretakers of what we have inherited.” 


International Baccalaureate program approved at Berkeley High 

The International Baccalaureate Organization authorized Berkeley High School to accredit the program within the institution’s International High School recently. 

Based out of Geneva, Switzerland, the organization has programs in 2,145 schools in 125 countries, including seven Bay Area schools.  

A three-member team visited the high school in November to interview faculty and students before approving the program. 

As a smaller learning community program within the high school, the International High School focuses on international studies. The four-year interdisciplinary curriculum—which began with the ninth-grade in 2006—focuses on global culture, history, artistic expression, and political and economic systems. It now consists of two years, ninth- and tenth-grade.  

The school plans to adopt the organization’s Middle Years Program and Diploma Programe, expanding into grades 11 and 12.  

Students would transition from the Middle Years Program into the comprehensive Diploma Program after the 10th grade.  

Students will be able either to earn certificates in any of 12 areas of study or to pursue the full IB Diploma with examinations in six subjects.  

All courses from Berkeley International High school will meet the California Content Standards and UC/CSU entrance requirements.