School Board Asks District to Draw Up West Campus Rehabilitation Plans

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 26, 2008 - 09:26:00 AM

The Berkeley Board of Education last week refrained from approving the use of prefabricated modular buildings for West Campus and instead directed staff to develop rehabilitation plans for the Bonar Street building, and return with both options on Aug. 20. 

The board was scheduled to vote on a revised modular option for relocating the district’s administrative staff from the seismically unsafe Old City Hall building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and to authorize staff to design a rehabilitation option. 

If that option had been approved, staff would have asked the board to pick either the modular or the rehabilitation option on Aug. 20. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, Nancy Riddle, vice president of the school board, said the board would look at both options in August before taking any further action. 

“I am taking out the part in the board packet which asks us to approve the modular option because frankly it was just goofy,” she said. “We’d be sending a wrong message to the community by saying we approve the modulars and ‘go look at the Bonar Street building.’” 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett agreed with Riddle’s comments. 

“It’s a bit of a trust issue out there because the plan has zigzagged over time, and we have heard that at the last two meetings,” he said. 

Huyett informed community members about plans to rehabilitate the West Campus Bonar Street building Monday, two days before the Berkeley Board of Education was scheduled to vote on it. 

After the modular design faced stiff disapproval from West Berkeley neighbors and local activists at a May 29 meeting, the superintendent asked the district’s facilities director, Lew Jones, to investigate rehabilitation options for the Bonar red brick building. 

According to the superintendent, rehabilitation costs turned out to be slightly more than the modulars, which were estimated to cost between $10 million and $10.5 million. 

The district explored the possibility of retrofitting West Campus in 2006, but abandoned the plan after it went substantially over budget. 

Jones said the earlier design involved a larger program than what was currently being considered, including an estimate for retrofitting the Bonar building and the auditorium, demolishing a number of buildings and developing the site. 

“We looked at advantages and disadvantages of rehabilitating the Bonar building, and one of the advantages is the space,” Huyett said. 

“The modulars had a limited amount of space. Another advantage is we can put everyone in one building. Also it’s a permanent solution. I am not saying this is the only solution, but it does have a number of advantages.” 

The initial cost to retrofit the Bonar building and improve the current parking lot is estimated to be $10.7 million, Jones said. 

Although some of the space in the three-story building will be turned into stairways and other circulation, it has between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet of additional space compared to the modulars. 

Jones said the district would consider rehabilitating all three stories, and possibly add Adult School classrooms or food service administration and storage in the additional space. 

Huyett said the district would also consider rehabilitating the cafeteria to hold school board meetings. 

“There is a concern that the school district doesn’t listen to the community,” he said. “But we do. We want to be good neighbors, we want to be a part of this community.” 

Although the majority of the people at the meeting were satisfied with the rehabilitation plans, some called for a master plan for the West Campus site. 

The district asked the Berkeley-based DCE planning firm to develop a master plan for the West Campus in 2005, and a group of neighbors also came up with their own version of a master plan, Jones said, but neither plan was adopted by the school board in the end. 

Huyett said the district lacked the resources to support a master plan at this moment. 

Some residents said they were concerned about the poor lighting on the Addison pathway, something that Jones said he would discuss with councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district it is in. 

Moore said he supported the rehabilitation plans, since it was a more sustainable practice. 

“The lights and other safety concerns have been a constant issue with neighbors in the area,” he told the Planet after the meeting. “I have contacted the school district continuously about keeping the alleyway clean and asked them to replace the lights. Prior to the new superintendent coming in, the district took a lax approach to maintaining the West Campus. I am hopeful things will change under the new superintendent.” 

When a couple of neighbors asked if the district would follow the city’s zoning ordinance for the West Campus project, Huyett said the issue was still under investigation.