Warm Pool Users Lobby Board of Education

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 11, 2008

Warm-water pool users lobbied the Berkeley Board of Education to save the Berkeley High School Old Gym and warm pool right before the board discussed a report recommending the site’s adaptive reuse at the school board meeting Wednesday. 

The report outlined the outcome of a charette held last month to settle a lawsuit against the Berkeley Unified School District. Board members refrained from taking any action and asked the district’s Director of Facilities Lew Jones to provide them with a more comprehensive cost analysis of the gym’s adaptive reuse. 

Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources sued the school district last year for what it called an inadequate environmental impact report on the demolition of the gymnasium and warm-water pool. 

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.”  

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.  

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

“We should build our future through adaptability,” said Bowman, stressing that state, federal and private funds were available to rehabilitate the gym, now that it’s a national landmark. 

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

Bowman quoted architect Todd Jersey—responsible for projects such as the Albany Pool and the Richmond Plunge—as saying that it was possible to preserve the pool while accommodating the school’s progress. 

The second concept—put forward by a group of people who want to maintain 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.  

Bill Savidge, a charette participant, said that the charette had not met the goals of the school board, which he said was to create more classroom space. 

“We have 3,300 students on 17 acres. The California Department of Education requires 40 acres of space in a school of this size,” he said. “All of us support the warm water pool, but it may not be appropriate to have non-student centered services right in the campus. I recommend moving it across the street.” 

School Board President John Selawsky called the adaptive reuse plans “wonderful conceptual ideas” and asked for a comparison between rehabilitation costs and new construction. 

One Warm Pool Advocacy Group co-chair Juanita Kirby said her group was open and flexible to anything that would save the pool, including a tax measure. 

The city is discussing the possibility of putting a bond measure to build a new pool, which would come with a $15 million price tag, on the November ballot. 

The mayor’s office is 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.  

“We are a small town with limited resources and we are on the brink of a recession,” said longtime pool user Pam Scullen, who supported rehabilitating the pool. “For us, this pool has saved lives.” 

One Warm Pool chair JoAnn Cook reminded the board that her group along with several other preservationists and community members had opposed the demolition of the pool and its relocation right after the master plan was completed. 

“We are not going to go away, whichever way the board decides on the proposals before it today,” she urged the board. “We will need your help to ensure a warm water pool for Berkeley. Make the commitment needed for that to happen—provide the land and the advocacy. If you take something away from someone, I was taught that you were to give back something of equal value.”