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BUSD Plans $10M Upgrade for Oregon Street Maintenance Facility

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 29, 2009 - 09:18:00 AM

The Berkeley Unified School District plans to demolish its seismically unsafe maintenance facility at 1707 Russell-1720 Oregon streets in South Berkeley and build new, smaller buildings on the site. 

The building, the site of Edison Middle School until the late 1930s, is one of the city’s last unreinforced masonry brick structures and includes the district’s purchasing and technology departments, special education staff and teachers on special assignment.  

These offices plan to move to West Campus on University Avenue when the district relocates its administrative offices there from the Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Way in two years. 

The majority of the food services department has already moved to the new King Dining Commons at King Middle School, which includes the district’s Central Kitchen. 

The maintenance department, warehouses, food service employees—including supervisors for the garden program—custodial office staff and storage, printing facilities and facilities department staff and consultants will remain at the same location. 

District officials estimate the project to cost $10.5 million but said they didn’t have the money to carry out any improvements right now. 

The district’s Facilities Director Lew Jones told the Planet that it was unlikely the district would be carrying out any work, including demolition, at the Russell Street site earlier than January 2013.  

The project will have to be approved by the city’s zoning board. 

Oakland-based HKIT Architects, the firm hired by the Berkeley Board of Education in spring 2008 to design the project, told the board at a Oct. 14 public meeting that their aim had been to “condense the program—take it one step further and do a cultural change.” 

Tom Brutting, principal at HKIT, which has designed buildings for the American High School in Fremont and College of Marin in Novato, said they had tried to create a more efficient and sustainable plan that interfaces with the neighborhood and gives easy access to vehicles. 

Since the buildings cannot be easily retrofitted, the district is proposing new buildings, which would occupy 25,000 square feet—less than half the current square footage. 

The proposed project includes an entrance on Russell Street for vehicles, two buildings on and close to Russell Street and a central courtyard which would be used for parking. 

Boardmember Shirley Issel pointed out that it is important that the new design avoid an industrial appearance because it will be in a residential neighborhood. 

The new design, which includes space to drive large delivery trucks into and through the site, is supposed to be a significant improvement over the current layout, where large vehicles must remain on Russell to be unloaded. 

Although the architects explored the idea of having the entry on Oregon Street, Jones said it would have met with resistance from the neighbors. 

The first of the two buildings will include the warehouse, food warehouse and printing functions while the second will have offices and trade shops. 

Jones recommended in a report to the school board that the district abandon the northernmost building at 1720 Oregon St.—which he described as an “unused junky storage space”—for some kind of an alternate use. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett said he wanted the building to be demolished as soon as possible. 

“I don’t want to see that building remain seismically unsafe,” he said.  

Board President Nancy Riddle echoed his thoughts, listing alternate uses such as pre- or elementary schools or faculty housing. 

“I don’t want historians to try and save the last unreinforced masonry building in Berkeley,” she said. “It’s an interesting historic museum, but it’s dilapidated and unsafe.” 

The board asked the district to hold community forums before deciding on the next step.