Page One

School Board Discusses Re-Use of BHS Old Gym

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 08, 2008

The Berkeley Board of Education will discuss a report recommending adaptive re-use of the Berkeley High School Old Gym on Wednesday. 

The discussion—which will include public comments—is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at the Old City Hall building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources—which sued the Berkeley Unified School District for what it called an inadequate environmental impact report on the demolition of the gymnasium and warm-water pool—met with school district officials and community members last month to discuss rehabilitation and re-use of the gym and the warm-water pool to settle the lawsuit.  

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.”  

Friends spokesperson Marie Bowman told the Planet that charette participants had discussed adapting the gym to meet the school’s academic and physical education needs as identified in the master plan. 

The district’s South of Bancroft Master Plan calls for the demolition of the nationally landmarked Old Gym to make room for a stadium and 15 new classrooms, with the option of relocating the warm-water pool to a site on Milvia Street.  

“We have determined that Berkeley High needs 14 classrooms to deal with its current space crunch,” the district’s Director of Facilities Lew Jones said. 

Four of those 14 classrooms are now located within portables at Washington Elementary School. The board will vote Wednesday on whether to construct six new portable classrooms near the high school’s softball field. 

If the district decides to follow its South of Bancroft Master Plan, then the portables will be used for the next five to six years, Jones said. 

“The first phase of the plan calls for the stadium to be built,” he said. “It would take around two years for the design and permitting process and construction itself would take 15 months. The second phase would be demolishing the Old Gym—which would take six months—and the third phase would be to build the classrooms. The board could also decide to modify the master plan after reviewing the charette report.” 

While some charette participants supported historic preservation of the Old Gym, others had concerns about its adaptive reuse. 

The report includes three different concepts, with the first proposing classrooms on the second floor and adding a basement to a piece of the Old Gym. 

The second concept—put forward by a group of people concerned about maintaining a league-sized softball field at the high school—would demolish a part of the building to accommodate the field and convert the north pool into a warm-water pool. 

The third plan calls for the demolition of the Donahue Gym, constructing classrooms on the first floor and converting the north pool into the warm-water pool. 

“All of these concepts are feasible, the question is whether they meet our program goals,” Jones said.  

He added that the district was required to listen to the outcome of the charette but were not legally bound to accept it. 

Bowman called the plan to demolish the Old Gym and rebuild wasteful, and said that since the building was now a national landmark, federal, state and private foundation funds were available for its restoration. 

Warm-water pool advocates were split between getting a bond measure passed for a new pool—which comes with a $15 million price tag—and preserving it. They are also exploring ways to convert the Milvia Street tennis courts into a warm pool but have not yet reached an agreement with Berkeley Unified about its use. 

The district hired Baker Vilar Architects to redesign the bleachers outside the track on Martin Luther King Jr. Way this summer and to create a timeline for the demolition of the Old Gym, which is not scheduled to start until 2010.