BUSD’s New West Campus Design Draws Enthusiasm

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 07, 2008 - 12:12:00 PM

More than 30 West Berkeley residents supported the Berkeley Unified School District’s plans to refurbish the old Bonar Street red-brick building at West Campus at a community meeting Monday. The district plans to use the building as its new headquarters. 

The district uses the seismically unsafe Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way for its central staff and board meetings but will lose its lease with the City of Berkeley next year. 

The Berkeley Board of Education is scheduled to approve either the rehabilitation or prefabricated modulars, which would be located at the south end of the parking lot, on Sept. 10. 

“We will make an administrative recommendation for one,” district Superintendent Bill Huyett said. “You can probably tell from our enthusiasm which way we are leaning, but we just haven’t made up our minds yet.” 

If the board decides on rehabilitation, it will look at whether to enhance the site with landscaping and/or to refurbish the old cafeteria, district officials said. 

Lew Jones, facilities director for Berkeley Unified, said the district would present the board with a dollar amount for rehabilitation on Aug. 20. The project would be funded by bond funds for capital improvements for the district. 

“We want to get some last minute feedback from the community,” said Huyett, acknowledging that the design was created after neighbors complained about the modulars. “In working with the architects and Lew, we have found many advantages to using the larger building and having everything in one building plan. We have a design with and without advanced landscaping here today—the landscaping is an add-on cost.” 

Jones estimated that the landscaping would cost around $80,000. 

Huyett said that although refurbishing would be more expensive than modulars—estimated at around $8 million—it had a lot more advantages. 

Rebecca Hayden with Emeryville-based Baker Vilar Architects presented the design for the three-story 36,000-square-foot Bonar building to the public, in particular the site and floor plans. 

“There are a number of improvements we would have to do, especially to make it accessible,” she said. “We have to make it accessible to wheelchairs by putting in a ramp. Parking for the offices will be in the existing parking lot.” 

Fire alarms and elevators would also have to be put in to make the building comply with the Division of the State Architect’s accessibility standards, Jones said. 

The building would be separated from the auditorium, Hayden said, and the first floor would have most of the public offices, the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, human resources and four classrooms for the Berkeley Adult School. 

The second floor would mainly have business, human resources and personnel offices, and the third floor would be slated for offices for education services and the superintendent. 

“Of course we will be refurbishing the interiors, putting in new bathroom lights and seismically retrofitting the building,” Hayden said. 

She added that the exterior of the building, which has a brick facade, will be painted and the old glass windows will be replaced by new ones. The district is also considering the possibility of installing sunshades. 

“One of the things the district has a need for is conferences and board meetings,” Hayden said. “So we took a look at refurbishing the 3,400-square-foot old cafeteria building, which can be used as a board room, [or for] conferencing or teacher training.” 

Huyett said the remodeled cafeteria would be available for community meetings.  

“The city also has an interest: to find a room for council meetings,” Jones said. 

City Council meetings are currently held at the council chambers in Old City Hall. 

Hayden also discussed a plan to landscape the Bonar Street frontage with drought-tolerant native plants, minimize the chain-link fences on the property, and construct bio-swales in the parking lot that would collect rainwater. 

“We also want to plant redwoods on the south end to screen the parking from the neighbors,” she said. “Overall improvements such as changing gates and fences would make the campus more attractive.” 

Although the majority of neighbors present said they were in favor of landscaping, Thomas Towey, CEO of Oakland-based Komorous-Towey Architects and a West Berkeley neighbor, issued a caveat about the new design. 

“My big concern is it has more nice things than the modulars, but my bigger fear is that the board will not have the money to do all of it, and it will go back to the modulars,” he said. “There should be a really, really bare-bones scheme. I think there should be no new sunshades on that building.”