Closure of BHS gym rattles athletes, angers parents

The Old Gym at Berkeley High School was abruptly shut this week because of seismic safety concerns. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The unexpected and abrupt closure of Berkeley High School’s Old Gym this week has thrown some of the school’s athletic programs into turmoil.

On Monday, members of the football team were told they could not go into the locker room in the Old Gym to suit up for practice or to retrieve their belongings. Since then, the team has not had a place to change, store personal items, use weights, or watch films to prepare for upcoming games.

“It has caused a lot of confusion and it is having an effect on how we practice,” said one member of the varsity football team who did not want his name used. “It has a detrimental affect on the team.”

The abrupt closure on Monday October 3 came about because Superintendent Bill Huyett only recently learned of reports that the structure may not be seismically safe, and decided to take action.

“I am a very prudent and cautious person when it comes to student safety,” said Huyett.

Huyett was referring to an engineering study included in a 2006 environmental impact report that raised – but did not answer — questions about the seismic stability of the Old Gym. The structure was built in 1922 based on a design by architect William Hays. In 1929, an addition housing what is now known as the Warm Pool was added. The complex is slated to be torn down in 2012 and replaced with a $35 million, three-story building that holds 15 classrooms, a new gym, and a fitness center.

Although Huyett has been superintendent for four years, he said he was not aware of the issue until the last few weeks. Since the Old Gym will soon be demolished, closing it three months early will not make a huge difference, he said.

“It seemed prudent to me since we were going to close it down anyway,” said Huyett.

But the closure took the coaches, football players, and their families by surprise. On Monday, family members sent around a slew of emails to one another and to the high school and school district complaining about the unannounced shuttering. Families affected by the closure plan to attend the October 12 school board meeting to express their concerns.

“No one is telling the kids anything,” said Richard Boyden, whose son plays on the football team. “No one is telling the coaches anything. The silence is deafening. This is Berkeley, yet these guys aren’t communicating.”

Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi sent out an email to the school community on Tuesday acknowledging the situation was difficult.

“We fully acknowledge the challenges that this facilities issue has caused for some of our athletic programs, and we are working to minimize those challenges with temporary storage space,” Scuderi wrote…. “While the inconvenience created for our athletic program by this decision is clear, we agree with our district partners that the closure is the most sensible course of action at this time given the paramount importance of student safety and considering the fact that the closure simply moves up an action that had already been slated for this winter.”

The new stadium facility is still under construction

Compounding the problem is the fact that the new stadium facility project adjacent to the Old Gym is seriously behind schedule. That building, which is still many months from completion, will house new athletic team rooms and lockers, offices for coaches and the athletic director, a training room, storage, restrooms, a ticketing facility, a press box, and 2,200 bleacher seats. The idea had been to complete this $10 million structure by the time the Old Gym was demolished, but that will not happen.

Berkeley High is scrambling to come up with a way to accommodate its athletes. The football team was allowed to use the visitors’ locker rooms in the Donahue Gym on campus on Tuesday, but couldn’t continue to use them because the volleyball team needs the space.

The high school is planning to bring in temporary storage facilities, Scuderi said in his email.

For the football team, the gym closure has added to an already tough season. The team was supposed to meet Catholic Prep at Berkeley High on September 17, but the game had to be moved to Catholic Prep in Marin after someone fell through the decrepit bleachers at Berkeley High. Marin Catholic won that game 35-27.

“All the players are confused and irritated,” said the football player. “Instead of focusing on our games completely, we are distracted. It’s pretty hard on the team.”

The building housing the warm pool is still open to the public.

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  • John Holland

    It sucks for the team, but being bonked on the head in an earthquake would suck more, I guess.

  • Mark

    It’s not just the school-funded athletic teams that are affected. Club programs that are wholly volunteer-supported and funded have offices and equipment stored in the building. The problems are multiple because the administration has been completely unhelpful and largely opaque and/or vague in their communication about the closure. There’s been a total lack of planning and the athletic teams and clubs are suffering the consequences financially and scrambling at the absolute last possible moment to retrieve their equipment before it is locked into the building for the foreseeable future with no ability to access it by anyone.

    One club in particular has many thousands of dollars of equipment stored in the building that was paid for or donated by volunteers and sponsors, i.e. not paid for by the school or school system. The gym closure has put the club into financial hardship because not only do they need to find a new home for that equipment, they risk losing access to it due to the lack of planning on the part of the administration. Ultimately the kids lose out, but so do the parents, volunteers and sponsors within the community at large that have funded the club.

  • Raiders910

    This is just like  BUSD to give  the Berkeley High School KID”S,Angers Parents a Foot in the A__ and say we will fix that to someday!!!

  • While we have received responses to communications with the school, the Mountain Bike Racing Team — a “club” not an official school “sport” — is left scrambling trying to find alternate storage solutions, as the school will not / cannot support the club with space any more.  Unfortunate — this will be a serious financial burden to the club, heightened by the “we shut it down yesterday” notice.

  • Berkeley parent

    Can’t they at least come up with a plan for the students to safely retrieve their belongings? What a dumb move.

  • Grammar Police

    This is just like illiterate Americans to give the Berkeleyside READER”S, Angers those who care about language a Foot in the MOUTH and say we will learn English that to someday.

    Fits with the stereotype of Raiders fans, I might add.

  • Guest

    I wonder if the school district told the city that the building was to close. Why is the warm pool area safe for babies and elderly folks when the rest of the building is unsafe? Why did it take 11 years for the district to read the reports stating the building is unsafe? Is it really unsafe?

  • As far as our club is concerned, at least, the school continues to communicate and try to offer some help.  I get the sense that the Superintendent’s actions surprised pretty much everyone.

  • Buildberkeley

    Why is the stadium facility project seriously behind schedule?  Has BUSD ever built anything on schedule or on budget?  Is there a reason that the facilities director at BUSD keeps his job?

  • BHS Junior

    It’s incredibly depressing that this building is to be torn down. As a BHS student, I’ve seen enough delays at this school to know that we won’t reap the benefits of the project for years to come, and that I certainly won’t see it finished during my time. The construction will put a further strain on our commute to the portables; I have no idea how we’ll get there if the bleachers are still under construction too. Further, the complete disregard for the environment and history of the area is upsetting (but expected from BUSD). Before the building was stripped for earthquake standards in the late 30’s, it was a truly marvelous building. I don’t want our campus becoming a homogeneous labyrinth like El Cerrito High. Restoration of the Old Gym is a more ethical solution in every regard. The diversity and history in our campus is what makes us a unique community, and we shouldn’t carelessly throw something away that we can never get back. 

  • Jose_Seis

    Seems like a wee teeny bit of an overreaction… I mean, there could have been an orderly, reasonable transition in which coaches could have been informed ahead of time and athletes were allowed to empty their lockers. The scenario as described seems pretty silly and doesn’t speak well to the Superintendent’s managerial skills.

  • BHS student

    Hey! Don’t forget about the crew team – we came back to practice this year and found our workout room chock full of old desks and couches. We now have to change in bathrooms and don’t have a place to store our bags during practice. This isn’t just affecting the football team.

  • Bruce Love

    Is this credible?

    Superintendent Bill Huyett only recently learned of reports that the structure may not be seismically safe

    If not, what’s really going on?

  • Guest2

    You’re right. This affects all BHS athletes. No locker rooms, no weight room, a much smaller Trainer’s room that must double as the Sports Medicine classroom, no space at all for the Wrestling team, and on and on. Representatives from Crew and all sports should attend the School Board meeting on Oct. 12th. Make your voices heard.

  • Raiders910

    Because BUSD went with the lower Bidder on this job and  lower paying workers means more delays, But they Keep there higher paying job ??

  • BHS student

    Having worked out in there for two and a half years, it’s actually in pretty awful shape. Water leaks through the ceiling when it rains, there are cracks in ceiling, the rafters are unmentionable… despite being ticked off about not having a workout/changing space, it’s nice to know that I’m not going to be squished while lifting weights.

  • Bruce Love

    Oh, sorry — I’ve no doubt about the problems with the building.   Let me try that again:

    re: “Superintendent Bill Huyett only recently learned of reports that the structure may not be seismically safe”

    It’s that highlighted part I find pretty amazing.   I know superintendent is a big job, sure, but he’s coming up on 5 years there.

  • Karen Siverson

    A few months ago: didn’t know about academic records security protocols–or lack thereof.  Now: doesn’t know about a seismic report.  The Superintendent has been on the job for FOUR YEARS!   What does he know about?  And just how long is his job performance performance period?

  • Karen Siverson

    ‘Scuse me: I meant “job performance probation period.”

  • Josephine

    This not only impacts the football team but also the baseball team. They work out now to be ready for the start of the season in February utilizing the weight room and more importantly the batting cages also located in the gym. There is no plan to accommodate the team and there is no place for the team to go that will allow them to prep for their season.  Other districts on this side of the hill and certainly schools on the other side of the hill would never allow this.  This is a joke. 

  • Julie

    I’m curious too. Also the fact that they are behind schedule the oder of diesel fuel is quite overwhelming. The school believes it isn’t dangerous, but for kids with asthma all kids, breathing it in, day after day, can cause harm. I also wonder why Mr. Huyett ONLY RECENTLY learned that the structure may be unsafe. I went over the reports from the company doing the work, and the studies, and couldn’t find anything. Hmmmmmmm.

  • another-parent

    And where is the planning? If you had to close it, why not plan a decent transition? Why just close it with no warning with no “plan B” already in the works?

  • anon

    It is weird that everyone is so surprised, because it has actually been known for a long time that the gym would be shut down as soon as possible. The Jacket reported on these updates throughout the past year. Even though it is an inconvenience, the building does not meet safety standards and if the school didn’t shut it down, it would be acting irresponsibly.

  • anon

    also, the new building will have brand new and much better quality athletic equipment, offices, and classrooms.

  • Richard Boyden

    As the parent quoted in the article, I have been reading all these comments with a lot of interest, and would like to add a few of my own.
    1)  Of course responsible school officials should close unsafe facilities.  This began with the football bleachers a few weeks ago and continued with the Gym closure.  The problem is that the district and school were caught with no plan, no involvement by stakeholders, very poor communications, and right in the middle of football season. There is also a real question about whether the Gym is seismically unsafe, although it is a terrible facilitity that should have been torn down 20 years ago, if not sooner.
    2)  The atrocious way this was handled should not lead us to demonize our administrators, who are good people with generally good reputations.  What it does point to is institutional failure, symptomatic of a dysfunctional organization (at least in the areas of facilities, contract and risk management, and communications).   It is clear that the facilities people have not been keeping their boss (the Sperintendent) informed about all the issues he needed to know about.  But they work for him; the buck has to stop somewhere.  It is also a sign of dysfunctionality when a vital project is 6 months behind, and no one seems to know it until the last minute; or, when the project falls behind, stakeholders aren’t kept informed, and contingency plans are not made.
    3. Yes, it’s not just football, it’s all sports.  Wrestling, for example, is effectively abolished for now, and commenters have listed other sports.  Baseball will not have battling cages.  Basketballl not have its practice court.  But this is happening to football in the middle of its season.  Because the bleachers were closed, most of the team’s home games had to be moved to out-of-town fields.  The weight room is closed, this is huge for football, vital to their effectiveness.  Losing their locker room is just as bad:  think helmets, shoulder pads, all the other gear involved. Here’s another thing:  you may not agree with the collegiate system of athletic scholarships, but for many of our players, who do not come from privileged families, football may be their only ticket to a college education.  Our players struggle and sacrifice,  and risk serious injury, to play their sport.  They, like all our student athletes, deserve better than this.
    4)  Some football parents, coaches, and players are planning to show up at the School Board meeting on Wed., Oct 12.  Our issue will not be on the agenda, but the Board knows we are coming and we have been encouraged to use the 7:30 citizen comment period to voice our concerns.  Other sports may chose to attend as indicated by comments above, and I would certainly urge them to do so.  I would ask that we maintain proper decorum and refrain from pointing fingers or assinging blame.  Our message should be: 
    BHS and Berkeley Unified have to do better than this!  Please take responsibility, find out what went wrong, and repair the  organization.  We can’t afford a repeat of this in the future.

  • BUSD_Fail

    Huyett is a tool .. 
    After his somewhat less prudent reaction to the gun incidents, if indeed he “only recently learned” of the seismic hazard then I think it’s reasonable to ask if he was equally prudent in staying informed of and effectively >>managing<< the issue.  He *is* being paid to be the top manager after all..


  • DC

    It’s not clear at all to me that facilities hasn’t been informing their superintendent.  In fact – as a construction project manager – I feel very sure in saying that there were probably regular project status reports going on of work needed on the buildings.  I’ve certainly never worked with a facilities department that didn’t do project status reporting for all active projects.  And since this was a building slated to close in winter anyhow, you can be sure the closure, the risk status and the work to be done was on someone’s radar.  Now, if the superintendent or his staff bothered to read the details of his construction status reports – who knows.

  • Richard Boyden

    Thank you for these insights.  You raise questions the Board needs to get answers to!

  • I can’t believe they were still using that building as much as they were.

    It’s looked like it was abandoned and teetering on the verge of collapse for several years now.

  • Maureen Burke

     You might also want to ask the Board whatever happened to obtaining Field Act certification for earthquake safety for school buildings. Back in April, various schools did not have that certification and the Board said it was a minor paperwork issue.—By-Priscilla-Myrick