After looking at 11 possible locations to hold future City Council meetings, Berkeley city staff is recommending that the council select between the auditorium at Berkeley City College, the multipurpose room at the North Berkeley Senior Center, and the auditorium at Longfellow Middle School.
Those three sites are centrally located, have sufficient capacity to hold the crowds that come to council meetings, are convenient to public transit, and can be fitted with audio-visual equipment to broadcast and tape meetings, according to a report that will be presented to the council Tuesday night.
The City Council has been meeting in the Maudelle Shirek Building at 2134 Martin Luther King Way since 1909, but needs to find a new spot because the building is seismically unsafe, according to Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, a city spokesperson. The Berkeley Unified School District currently uses the building for its administrative offices, but will move to a newly refurbished building on University Avenue near Bonar in March.
The move of BUSD is prompting the City Council to move as well.
“We would like to have things in place as soon as possible because there are logistics we need to address,” said Clunies-Ross. “There is no firm deadline, but the building is not safe and, with the school district moving out, it will be harder to keep the building clean and functional with no one using it.”
The school district will spend $14.5 million to refurbish the West Campus, which was the site of the Berkeley Adult School until 2004. The school district will also remodel an old cafeteria at West Campus for another $1.75 million that it will use for school board meetings. It will be completed later in 2012. The City Council can use that site for its meetings, but some community members have concerns about its location. West Campus is far from Berkeley’s central core and BART, although AC Transit lines run nearby.
At a City Council meeting in November, a number of neighbors of West Campus said frequent night meetings at the new facility would be disruptive. (The city is looking for a space that can accommodate commission meetings as well as city council meetings.) One speaker said “this council meeting will be 15 feet away from my living room window.”
City Councilmember Darryl Moore does not favor using the West Campus for city meetings. The site is in his district.
“West Campus is not the location to have this chamber,” said Moore. “It’s more appropriate that we have our city council meetings in the downtown area.”
Concern about using the West Campus site prompted the council in November to direct staff to look at alternative sites. City staff examined 11 sites and compared their capacity, their access to public transit, their parking, the impact meetings would have on the neighborhood, and what it would take to install audio-visual and other equipment.
Staff looked at West Campus, the Berkeley City College auditorium, the multipurpose room of the North Berkeley Senior Center, the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, the Berkeley Adult School, the Berkeley Community Theater, the Black Repertory Theater, the Tamalpais Room in the Brower Center, the atrium in the Ed Roberts Building, the Florence Schwimley Little Theater at Berkeley High School, the community room in the Main Library, and the South Berkeley Senior Center.
The auditorium at Berkeley City College, the multipurpose room at the North Berkeley Senior Center, and the auditorium at Longfellow Middle School seemed to offer the most flexibility, according to the report. If city council members agree, city staff will come back to council in May with a more detailed study of those locations.
Berkeley has budgeted $400,000 to move and refurbish new meeting headquarters. It does not know what will happen to the Maudelle Shirek Building, but has set aside $100,000 to explore the questions.