BUSD, City Differ on Moving Warm Pool to West Campus

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 09:56:00 AM

The Berkeley Board of Education approved a resolution last week to work with the City of Berkeley to relocate the warm-water pool from the landmarked Old Gym to an appropriate location, without naming West Campus as a preferred site. 

On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to work with the school district to relocate the pool to an unnamed school district site.  

At the special school board meeting Friday, Mayor Tom Bates and warm-water-pool users criticized the board’s decision to pull the West Campus site from the language of the resolution.  

Board President John Selawsky and board member Karen Hemphill abstained from voting. The other three members voted for the resolution. 

Some board members objected to naming West Campus, the site of the former Berkeley Adult School, on University Avenue—which has been vacant for several years and is the proposed new headquarters for the Berkeley Unified School District—as a possible site for the warm pool before consulting with its neighbors. 

The South of Bancroft Master Plan outlines the demolition of the seismically unsafe Old Gym in June 2011 to make room for new classrooms. According to the resolution, Berkeley Unified would work with the council to maintain the three community pool centers, which are on district property, including the warm pool. The resolution calls for the city to prepare a ballot measure for the June 2010 election to improve the pools and fund a new warm-pool site.  

Additionally, it calls for Bill Huyett, superintendent of the Berkeley public schools, to work with City Manager Phil Kamlarz to develop a public pool plan representing the interests of pool users; the school district; the City of Berkeley, which would operate and maintain the pools and community programs; and the YMCA, which would bridge the gap for swimmers during construction. 

The city and district would also work together to estimate funds and operating costs for potential sites, hold a public process to identify a site and recommend a preferred project and alternatives for the warm pool as required by CEQA. 

The city will fund the planning and environmental analysis and prepare detailed drawings and award a contract for construction, pending approval of the bond measure.  

JoAnn Cook, co-chair of the One Warm Pool Advocacy Group, urged board members to work closely with parents and teachers to win their support for the 2010 pools bond. 

Bates lauded the district for its positive spirit and cooperation at the beginning of the meeting, and added that “a lot of it has to do with your new superintendent.” 

Board members also remembered councilmember Dona Spring in their speeches, commending her for being a stalwart for the warm pool and adjourning the meeting in her honor. 

Selwasky said he was supportive of the city’s decision to postpone the pools bond from this November to 2010 since it could have jeopardized the library and fire measures. 

Huyett informed the board that although the mayor had wanted to name West Campus as a preferred site in the document, the school district had acknowledged the possibility but had wanted to keep its options open for other sites as well. 

“West Campus pops into the mind, since there are already pools there, there’s space there and parking and access,” Selawsky said. “When you go through the list you really don’t have that many possibilities.” 

Some board members expressed concern about naming a specific site as a preferred location since the action would undermine the community’s trust in the district. 

“When you name a site, it looks like it has already been decided,” Board Member Joaquin Rivera said. “I want to make sure that the community of West Campus is involved in the process.” 

Board Member Karen Hemphill said the district had just begun to gain the trust of the neighbors for rebuilding West Campus; she said trust could be lost if future uses of the property were not discussed with them. 

“I am also troubled by calling out West Campus,” Board Member Shirley Issel said. “I think it’s a viable option, but it also has other pools, which have their own uses. It sounds like we are making a commitment to West Campus if no other site is found.” 

Hemphill said that the district’s previous mention of the tennis courts on Milvia Street as a possible site for a new warm pool had confused and frustrated people who have grown tired of the district changing its mind on the issue of where to move the pool. The school district has not made any decisions about whether the property would be sold or leased to the city for building a warm pool, although the city hired architects to come up with a schematic design for the site last year.  

“We are being asked to make a rallying cry that it [West Campus] is the best place to make a pool but I don’t see the same level of commitment on the city’s side to go out for a bond measure,” Hemphill said. “What if there’s no bond measure? Does it become the responsibility of the school district?” 

Bates replied that naming the West Campus as a preferred site was “the real sticking point” for the warm water pool users. 

“The West Campus is actually a very, very good site,” he said. “The warm water pool people cooperated with us ... At least they know there is a site ... This was something we put together with all the parties and now you are changing the deal. I don’t think anyone will believe you unless you nail it down.” 

Huyett pointed out that the language in the resolution without the West Campus was still a strong one. 

“It says the city council and the district agree to conduct a public process that will relocate the warm water pool to an appropriate site,” Huyett said. 

The word “will” was later changed to “shall” by the board by a motion from Issel. 

Selawsky stressed the importance of keeping West Campus in the language as a symbolic gesture to the warm pool users.  

“I have been telling my people the school district was going to take some responsibility,” Cook said. “The one thing was West Campus, and now it’s gone. It’s gone like the pool, like the tennis courts. For you, having the West Campus in the resolution is an esoteric thing maybe. But for us, it’s a symbol.” 

“Back to the tennis courts, back to the tennis courts,” Bates called out from his front row seat in the council chamber. 

Huyett said the board had arrived at its decision after giving the issue a lot of serious thought. 

“The majority of the board has the responsibility to have a process with the community,” he said. “I know the warm water pool people are desperate for a site but this [resolution] says the school district will be a partner in bringing them the solution.”