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Plans for Berkeley's West Campus to be Presented Tuesday: City Council Chambers, Charter High School, BUSD Offices (News Analysis)

By Kristin Leimkuhler, West Campus Neighbors and Merchants Alliance (WestNEMA)
Thursday October 13, 2011 - 09:55:00 AM

As currently planned by the City of Berkeley and the Berkeley Unified School District, the neighborhood surrounding the 7.3 acre location on University Avenue, BUSD's "West Campus", will undergo major changes in the next few years. The Berkeley City Council meetings will move to the West Campus site, to be shared with the BUSD administration and the Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement (REALM) charter high school. 

To begin with, the long awaited new School District Administrative Headquarters, located in the 3 story classroom building on Bonar Street is close to accepting its first staff following the winter holidays.

In addition, REALM will be unveiling plans for a high school campus to be located in 2 buildings at the site, and will probably utilize additional classrooms to be located either in the District’s building or in portable structures to be located on the playing field. The school is intended to begin using the facility in the year 2012/13 and is expected to work toward a population of 400 students onsite.

REALM plans on occupying the building that fronts University Avenue, making what is currently the breezeway into a lobby and entrance for the school, and also occupying—in a phased in plan— the old shop building which lies next to the swimming pool. They are currently trying to figure out the lunch time facilities for the students, who are all expected to stay on campus during the entire school day, although it is not intended to be a physically fenced off campus. The existing Cafeteria building is planned to be converted into the new City Hall Chambers (see below). REALM will also be using the Boys Gym, but the non-functional plumbing in there will not be repaired at this time.

Because charter schools do not always succeed, the school district is trying to ensure that the classroom and workspaces being designed could also serve a BUSD program for middle and high schoolers that might emphasize more hands-on learning in afterschool programs. The architects for the REALM project (HMC) along with the project manager from Turner Construction will also be on hand at the Tuesday night Community Meeting. The site Committee currently includes myself and Thomas (TJ) Towey as the community representatives. Darlene Percoats of the Childhood Education Center (preschool located on the site) is also on the Site Committee.

City Council Chambers and School Board Room to move to West Campus Cafeteria!

The most surprising change at this site is the relocation of the City Council chambers to a small building located on Addison Street, directly across the street from 3 single family homes. While the high school searches for a cafeteria, the kitchen facilities in this building will be abandoned or ripped out of what is currently the Cafeteria Building, and it will soon be transformed into a reasonable facsimile of the existing Council Chambers. There are many problems with this design, not the least of which is that it puts the major hub for public expression in Berkeley, California, smack across the street from residences on Addison and Browning Streets, and hidden from our main arteries. (The REALM school design will make the breezeway unusable by the general public for access from University Avenue).

This is compounded by the fact that a large auditorium which could be a far more suitable environment for public meetings practically adjoins the cafeteria, and is located directly on University Avenue. However, no plans for renovating the existing Auditorium solely as a public meeting space have been explored. In a previous version of the site plan for the School District headquarters, the Auditorium was incorporated into the District offices, but that plan involved taking a good chunk of the level floor and transforming that into workspaces. The cost of that design ran approximately $3-4 million. The current budget estimate I have heard for making the cafeteria into a suitable meeting hall is around $1.4 million, but it is hard to imagine this being the permanent seat of public discourse in our City.

Apparently the City Council has yet to vote on moving the site for Council meetings to this location, but approximately $500,000 was to be allocated for the project in the City Manager's budget. [For more details, see this Berkeley Daily Planet editorial which appeared n May. 2011 ]

The neighborhood surrounding the old West Campus High School will soon be transformed by an influx of school district employees, high school youth, their parents and teachers, and the lively public participation (and occasional media circus) that Berkeley's public meetings bring!

Please come to the meeting and learn more firsthand about these projects. All of the architectural teams and developers will be on hand to present their plans and take questions, a rare opportunity. 


AGENDA for Community Meeting, October 18, 2011

6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

West Campus Gym

1. Greetings and Introductions
2. Overview
3. BUSD Administration Building Project
4. BUSD Board Room/City Council Project
5. REALM Charter School Project
6. Keeping in Contact