West Campus neighbors won a major victory last week when the Berkeley Board of Education approved plans to rehabilitate the former Berkeley Adult School building on Bonar Street in order to relocate Berkeley Unified School District’s headquarters from the seismically unsafe Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The district had previously decided to construct prefabricated modulars at the site, evoking criticism from community members, who contended that refurbishing an existing red-brick building would be more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Berkeley Unified officials and school board members listened to the community’s concerns at several meetings over the past few months and decided to give rehabilitation a chance.
“We really appreciate the community’s interest,” said district Director of Facilities Lew Jones at the Sept. 10 meeting. “It definitely helped.”
Jones worked closely with Superintendent Bill Huyett and Baker Vilar Architects, the firm hired by Berkeley Unified to design the project, and came up with a design that would utilize all three floors of the Bonar Street building for administrative as well as teaching purposes.
“I think this is a good example of the school district listening to the community and taking a second look,” Huyett said. “It’s a good reuse of a facility, and I am very excited about it.”
Estimated to cost $15 million, the proposed project would also enhance the otherwise derelict campus by spending a quarter of a million dollars on landscaping Bonar, Addison and Browning streets and refurbishing the campus cafeteria.
Jones said the board had not approved a plan to rehabilitate the entire cafeteria building, which also houses a kitchen, but added that the one remodeled room could be used for future school board meetings.
The school board currently holds its meetings in the City Council chambers at the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall building.
The district is set to lose its lease with the city for the building at the end of 2009.
Jones said construction for the West Campus project would begin around April 2010 and that the building would be habitable by July of 2011.
“We know that our lease with the city will run out in 2010 but the city has indicated that it’s not a big deal,” Jones said. “However, we haven’t had any formal talks about it yet.”
In exchange for the Old City Hall building, the city leases property on Sixth Street from Berkeley Unified, which is home to the health center Lifelong Medical Care.
According to a report to the school board by Baker Vilar, the new design aimed to create a space that would “maximize efficiency and foster collaboration” between the different departments in the district.
The majority of the district’s public functions would be located on the first floor, including admissions and student support, the Berkeley Public Education and Volunteers, the Berkeley Alliance, video and film library rooms and human resources.
Four classrooms for the Berkeley Adult School, which has its own campus a block away on San Pablo Avenue, will also be built at the site. Conference, copy and break rooms will be on the second floor along with the technology and accounting departments.
The superintendent’s office will be located on the southeast portion of the third floor, and offices for special education, professional development, and state and federal programs will be concentrated around the elevators and the stairs for easier public access.
Jones said the building would be separated from the auditorium on campus and that new fire alarms and elevators would be installed to make the project comply with the Division of the State Architect’s accessibility standards.
The building’s exterior would also be getting a facelift, including fresh paint, new glass windows and a sunscreen, and the entire structure would be seismically retrofitted.
Berkeley Unified explored the possibility of retrofitting West Campus in 2006, but abandoned the plan after it went substantially over budget.
“The finances changed quite a bit this time,” said school board President John Selawsky. “Our bids are coming in under our estimates because construction costs are going down, and we are saving money. I think the community input for the rehabilitation was important, but we wouldn’t have been able to do it if we went over budget again.”
The current project would be exempt from the city’s zoning laws, since it includes classrooms, Jones said, but would be reviewed by the Division of the State Architect as mandated by the Education Code.
For more information on the West Campus project see www.berkeley.net/board-meeting-information.