Berkeley school district settles into new headquarters

The Berkeley Unified School District has moved into new headquarters at 2020 Bonar Street, near University Avenue Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley School District has spent much of the past two weeks moving into its newly renovated headquarters at the West Campus at 2020 Bonar Street.

The school district spent $10.5 million to renovate the building, which was used for years as the Adult School and as a home for ninth graders before that, according to Mark Coplan, the district spokesman. Most of the employees from the district’s main headquarters at Old City Hall, operational offices on Oregon Street, and the Annex at 1835 Allston Way moved to the new site. The move was prompted by concern that the Old City Hall, which the district had used for 37 years, was not seismically sound. The project was paid for with money from two school district bond measures, AA and I.

The renovated West Campus is light, airy and modern, with plenty of conference rooms, a number of classrooms, and even a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from some rooms.

The school board will continue to meet in the chambers at Old City Hall until a nearby building can be renovated for a new meeting place. The school board will meet at 2020 Bonar Street on Wednesday Aug. 15, however, since Old City Hall is being painted.

Superintendent Bill Huyett is scheduled to formally retire on Thursday Aug. 16. He had been planning to leave on June 30 but the school board asked him to postpone his retirement because its search for a new leader had not generated a suitable candidate.  School board directors are scheduled to discuss hiring an interim superintendent at their Wednesday meeting. They have also been interviewing another set of candidates for the job.

Susan Craig, BUSD Director of Student Services, stands by unpacked boxes at the district’s new HQ. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The superintendent’s office. Current Superintendent Bill Huyett is set to retire Thursday Aug. 16. The school board is meeting in closed session Aug. 15 to choose an interim superintendent. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Mark Coplan, BUSD spokesman,in a conference room in the new BUSD headquarters. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Jana Jandra, executive assistant to the superintendent, says she loves the light-filled and spacious new headquarters. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley school district renews search for superintendent
What does Berkeley want from its new school head? [03.14.12]
Berkeley Schools Superintendent Bill Huyett to retire [12.06.11]
Understanding Measures H and I [10.13.10]

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  • PragmaticProgressive

    How soon we forget!  

    Back when Measure I was on the ballot, Berkeleyside ran this:

    Measure I, which requires a 55% vote to pass, allows the BUSD to issue up to $210 million in bonds to fund specific projects listed in the measure (and only those projects). Among the projects are: a new classroom building, improved technology and athletics facilities at Berkeley High School; new elementary school classrooms; new science labs, career and technical education classrooms; and major replacements such as roofs and boilers.

    Notice how a $10 million spend for administrative offices didn’t make the top-of-mind list?  That’s probably because it was easy to miss when pushed close to the bottom of the project list and presented generically as “renovate, replace, or construct other educational support facilities.”  

    Do we have new science labs?  Is BHS’ seismic retrofit complete? Has overcrowding at BHS been addressed?

    Is there a master facilities plan yet?  No, but the superintendent’s executive assistant “loves the light-filled and spacious new headquarters.”

    Priscilla Myrick tried to warn us about Measure I.  We’ll be paying almost one billion dollars in principal and interest on these bonds between now and 2060.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    And Frances, way to bury the lede, in a caption no less!

    The superintendent’s office. Current Superintendent Bill Huyett is set to retire Thursday Aug. 16. The school board is meeting in closed session Aug. 15 to choose an interim superintendent.

    Interim superintendent?  Closed session? What?  

    Let’s recall the timeline for this search:

    * the search begins in open session, with regular updates

    * the June reboot, in which a seriously divided board abandons the quest.

    * No more updates are posted to the page despite the promise that it “will be updated regularly to keep our community informed as we move through the recruitment and selection process.”

    * Meetings are now being held in closed session.

    * We’re getting an interim superintendent.

    Why?  What went wrong in the first search?  What happened in the second go-around?  Who’s qualified as an interim appointment and how long will the interim be?

    Selawsky’s a lame duck, but Levya-Cutler is running for re-election:  surely it’s time for some accountability?

  • BBnet3000

    Have they finished painting the Addison side of the building yet? They oddly stopped when they did it in the first place, leaving an unpainted section.

    Also, are they going to do anything with the eyesore that is the rest of the West Campus? Its really killed that block of University (across from La Mission)

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    It’s great to see that part of Berkeley get a little boost. I hope it continues, and if I can add my two cents, a good place to start is to move/tear down/get rid of the eyesore known as Kenny Cottage. It’s a dilapidated shack that you’ll find directly across from Shell and right behind Berkeley Way Mini Park. It’s been there for years and is insulting to the neighborhood.

  • The Sharkey

    Why did the Berkeley Adult School move in the first place?
    Will BUSD start shooing away the bums who camp in the doorways along University?
    I can’t imagine that BUSD plans on hiring enough bureaucrats to fill the whole building – What will they do with the extra space?

  • People who want to complain about this project should attend one of the “Construction Bond Oversight Committee” committees, which oversees the funds used by Measure I bond .

    According to some of the meeting minutes at , this project (otherwise known as the “West Campus”) has been struggling, and the BUSD was hoping to move in earlier during the summer. School is about to begin in late August, so I’m sure this delay is causing problems for the Staff.

    And I’ll note with irony that a meeting is due to be held in mid-August, according to . However, no meeting is announced on that page. Maybe the responsible person was too busy to update that page, which is a shame. I would recommend that you contact the BUSD and ask when the next meeting is happening. These meetings are held in an open session in part to keep the public informed and to receive input from the public, so it seems that if the meeting isn’t announced to the public in a timely fashion then the meeting should be postponsed d to a time which would allow adequate public notice.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t tempt the devil Sharkey. They said the same thing about the UC office of the president a massive new building in downtown Oakland was proposed and by the time it was built it was too small for all of the staff.

  • Anonymous

     I’ve been to some of those of meetings and they basically follow the same format as the school board meetings.  Decisions are announced, often without any justification, explanation of the cost/benefit calculation used, research motivating the proposal, etc., and the public (i.e., the employers of these people) are given a few minutes to ask questions or make comments. At best you get a polite nod and a “We’ll look into that” with no followup.

    Only criminals would spend $10M on a swanky new office for themselves while the facilities of the children they are supposed to be serving are decrepit or non-existent and overcrowded. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t violate the letter of the bond measure because they burried that “renovate, replace, or construct other educational support facilities.” clause in it but it definitely violates the spirit of it.

  • Tor

    Jefferson Elementary is just about to embark on a $5.4 million modernization and expansion. JV Athletes are finally getting the Derby Athletic Field. The southern half of Berkeley High is nearing the end of a hard-to-miss $16 million renovation, and the auditorium has a state-of-the-art audio system that was paid for with AA funds. Cragmont and Rosa Parks are practically brand new by California DOE standards. This is just off the top of my head, but it looks to me like facilities serving students in BUSD are pretty well looked after. I haven’t visited all the schools in the district, but do you have any specific examples of facilities that are decrepit or non-existent or overcrowded?

  • Eric Weaver

    It is easy to throw around “anonymous” accusations.  I am a member of the BUSD’s construction oversight committee and the chair of the audit subcommittee.  We oversee the projects to make sure that the money is spent in an efficient way in conformity with the Bond provisions. 

    We do not choose the projects.  The elected School Board chooses the projects in open, publically noticed, meetings.  There is a large lag time built into school construction projects due to the oversight of the State.  By the time projects actually begin, many people have forgotten about the extensive public process that every BUSD project undergoes before it is approved.

    We have devoted out first year to making our committee’s work more transparent.  If you look at the monthly staff reports that are posted on our website, you will find detailed cummulative information about each project.

    Our next meeting is on August 30, 2012.  If you have any concerns about how the district is spending the construction money, please feel free to come to our next meeting to express your concerns.

    I extended this same invitation on Berkeleyside a few months ago. We have had regular public input from Berkeley High athletic volunteer community.  You can contact them and ask them if we follow up on their comments and recommendations.  (Their names are in the minutes.)  To my recollection, no one else from the public has attended our meetings despite our open invitation to do so.

    Eric Weaver

  • Guest

     Give it to the charter school?

  • Anonymous

     You do not choose the projects and you’ve devoted your first year making the committee more transparent. You’ve just substantiated my “anonymous” claim. And yes I have been to the meetings and, as you point out, expressing my concerns does no good since even the committee has no say.

    Nobody in their right mind is against spending money on school infrastructure and I’m for spending far more under the right conditions.  At least my criticism and I’m guessing many others is flippant and irresponsible that BUSD spends it.

  • Anonymous

     Jefferson is being paid for out of yet another bond sale, not AA and I.  You know as well as I do Tor that the it’s pretty light on modernization and the PTA is going to pay for the aspects of it that will really benefit the students (the yard, furniture, decorating, etc.). We’ll get a nice new library (with books purchased by the PTA) and proper space for student services but otherwise it’s just a few more classrooms for BUSD to stuff with the coming flood of fraudulently enrolled students when surrounding districts get their ADA funding slashed next year.

    The Jefferson facilities are decrepit although the open sewer in the front of the school was finally fixed after parents threatened to complain to the state about it.  The new science labs that were such a big part of the AA campaign are non-existent and nobody would describe BHS and anything but overcrowded.

  • Chris

    Agreed – I imagine (hoping) that they were pushing to finish the crucial parts first, and they will complete renovating the remainder of the building shorty. Currently the remainder looks like a good place to be tortured or raped… 

  • Guest1234

    How much did they spend defending that counselor who “allegedly” sexually harassed that student?

  • guest

    I live nearby and I think the school moved because the building was damaged and has asbestos issues. 
    Much of the time/money spent I believe was for the safe clean up.

  • guest

    I think the project is complete and there are no plans to renovate the rest of the building.  There were years of meetings about this buildling and what to do with it.  I have lived in the area for almost 8 years and it took many years to get this project approved.  My understanding is that only the part that is renovated had the asbestos and seismic issues that required an upgrade.  I agree the rest of the building needs a lot of help but I don’t think there are plans to do any more work on the building.

  • Anonymous

     BUSD people are quick to point out that “that’s a different budget!” just like salary is and that’s true but yeah, the fact that they don’t even bother to create a facade of accountability shows how little they actually care about what the public thinks.  Of course, when they come crying to the voters next year about how broke they are there will grand promises about how it will be different this time and the money will be spent on all kids, not just the ones favored by whatever ideology and educational fad happens to be in style.

  • Chris

     Thanks for the addl info!

    That’s unfortunate. A small amount of money for paint and some fences to discourage the overnight sleeping and garbage would go a loooong way.

  • Tor

    Actually, I (along with the entire Jefferson staff and faculty) pretty strongly disagree that the renovation is “light on modernization” in any sense. Contrary to your assertion, this is a Measure I project. You know as well as I do that the remainder of your comments regarding the renovation of my children’s school are also inaccurate.

    In any case, my point was that, contrary to the prior assertion, BUSD schools are in no way decrepit or overcrowded, as clearly evidenced by the staggering number of capital projects undertaken by our district.

  • DM

    I would be curious how much overspending this contractor has caused?  I am assuming the powers that be already know this??

    I work nearby and can watch them out my window ever day.
    They indeed painted much of the Addison side, and then seemed to stop when their ‘cherry-picker’ lift didn’t go any higher.  Are they REALLY going to leave it like that? 
    They also have had to come back and re-do a bunch of the cement work.

    The new mulching job along browning is placed over a bunch of cardboard. 

    And that is only the beginning.  I could go on and on about the parking lot and how THAT project is ONLY open today and was supposed to be completed by January 1.

    I am afraid WE the taxpayers are paying more than we should for work that is not up to par.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right, it is a measure I project. When we’re walking around puddles in hallway two years from now caused by the same old leaky windows be sure to keep your modernization claim in mind. The library and student center are a good start but it’s a travesty that we only get them at the cost of overcrowding.

  • Guest

    Other school districts mail project updates, showing monies spent to date and milestones reached, to all taxpayers. Not BUSD.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    That’s because there is no facilities master plan. Instead the Board spends huge amounts of time on social engineering the 2020 Vision.

  • Berkeley Resident

     I’d ask that fellow Berkeley residents be careful about what they say here.  If you don’t believe that the old building was seismically un-sound, or don’t believe there will be a major earthquake in the coming decades, or can name a cheaper alternative, please say so.  Otherwise, it sounds like you don’t mind if BUSD employees die. 
    As another reader said, we as residents are their employers.  What is our moral, not just fiscal, responsibility as such?  Please remember that employees in that building (not just high-paid managers, but custodians, secretaries, etc) will read our words.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t really fault them for not having a master plan since they can’t predict how many fraudulently enrolled students they are going to have from year to year. Maybe they can put some of the massive incoming kindergarten class in the superintendent’s new office so the kids will have a view of the bridge.

  • Anonymous

     A major earthquake is a certainty and at least I don’t want anybody to die. If it were up to me the administration would be moved into portables until the current fiscal problems are under control and a new administration building is explicitly funded (ideally through non-academic cost savings and realistically through bonds).  They don’t have any qualms about putting our kids in portables when their poor planning and permissiveness towards fraud necessitates it, we shouldn’t have any about demanding that they use them too. No, they wouldn’t be “light-filled and spacious” but it’s good enough the kids and they’re the priority, right?

    Instead, what they’ve done is hijack money that the voters gave them to improve school facilities and used it $10 million on themselves at a time when they should be making every effort to maximize what they have for, you know, the students.

  • SarahS

    It would be great if Berkeleyside did an investigative piece on the way the school district spends its money. I’ve been told (but don’t know for sure) that the massive project at Berkeley High School finished a couple of years ago was mostly administrative offices and only a couple of classrooms. Is this true?

    I had hope Berkeleyside was going to do some in-depth investigative reporting online, since The Daily Planet is nothing more than a personal fiefdom, and Berkeley government entities really need some light shown on how they operate. Unfortunately, it appears that we readers can expect mainly PR pieces about new businesses and stories from other sources.

    There is potential here, but…………Sigh.

  • Guest

    “tortured or raped” .
    Not dramatic enough…

  • Guest

    Maybe they could let the bums stay in the old empty building so they woundn’t be so unsightly on University?

  • Guest

    ehhh, Sharkey doesn’t believe in the dangers of asbestos…

  • Sarah, I too have wondered why Berkeleyside doesn’t ask harder questions of public officials, but it’s their site and perhaps they figure that being too antagonistic will result in them getting cut off or being construed as partisans rather than journalists (though I think only one of the founders attended journalism school, if that matters).  For the most part, I am resigned to finding the missing parts of the story in the comments section.  I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is.

    Coming to your specific question, over on the Berkeley Accountable Schools Blog, I posted some of Priscilla Myrick’s detective work into the question of where Measure AA money went after voters were convinced to fund it on the promise of more classrooms.  In that same post, you’ll also find a link to the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team’s reports on the BUSD Comprehensive Improvement Plan.  

    Yes, this is older information, and yet BHS is still overcrowded.  I maintain that that’s largely because of the enormous population of fraudulently enrolled out-of-district students, but even if you disagree with that interpretation, the FCMAT reports and Ms. Myrick’s work — she is an MBA, CPA, and a former auditor — tell a story worth hearing.  Maybe one day the folks at Berkeleyside will give us their version.

  • Really?  BHS is not overcrowded?  I think I’ll go with my lying eyes, thanks.

  • Part of the point of having a generally open comments section is it’s a chance for our readers to say what they want. So we’ll take the brickbats as well as the praise.

    We have done plenty of investigative stories. Look at our coverage of chief Meehan, the sexual harassment suit at BHS, the drug house on Oregon, cannabis dispensaries, etc. We certainly want to — and need to — do more on BUSD spending and a number of other issues. Our issue is we’re very stretched and we have a firm belief that the site will thrive if we have a mix of stories — hard reporting, features, interviews, etc.

    We could, I guess, concentrate on only doing investigative work. That would mean a few stories a month because investigative stories take a lot of time and resources. I think it would also mean that Berkeleyside had a readership of a few thousand people at best, which would not attract the advertisers we need to be sustainable. It’s a difficult balancing act for us, and one that I think we’ve been very open about. We want to do more — of everything — but we’re operating in a real world where our time and money is constrained.

  • The Sharkey

    That’s not actually what I said, but if you’d prefer to characterize my comments like that it doesn’t really bother me.

    I wonder how much was spent for the initial government-mandated installation of asbestos fire retardant and then later on the government-mandated removal of asbestos fire retardant? I wonder if the installation and removal were both done by non-government-affiliated crews that won the jobs through a process of competitive bidding?

  • The Sharkey

    Maybe they could pay the bums to remove the asbestos?

  • The Sharkey

    I seem to remember multiple discussions about how it would be impossible for BHS to be a closed campus because the facilities are something like 1/2 the size that would be required to actually feed all the students at the school.

  • Hi Lance,

    I can certainly appreciate the balancing act, though the choices don’t always resonate.  But it’s your site, so that’s that.

    I do wonder if you’ve contemplated crowdsourcing some of the work in a more formal way.  For example, I noticed that the New York Times is running a reader input thing called “send Bitman packing,” in which readers will determine where in the world Mark Bitman goes on his next foodie assignment.  Could Berkeleyside poll readers about which investigative stories are of the greatest interest?

    Or, supposing that you plan to interview some newsmaker — Chief Meehan, the candidates for Mayor, etc.  How about polling the readership for questions we’d want to see asked?  Of course you’d have to choose among them, but it would avoid the whole “I can’t believe they didn’t ask X” outbreak that we sometimes see in the comments here.

    Another option:  the discussion site reddit has a whole section called “Ask Me Anything,” in which they frequently host famous and not-so-famous people who agree to field questions directly from users.  These are often quite good and sometimes just terrible — I am not suggesting you replicate the format as is but with modifications that would fit your scale and focus.  Creating a forum in which newsmakers – politicians, city officials, local businesspeople, scientists, and artists — can field questions from their constituents and fellow citizens would be a tremendous public service.  Public Comment at council/school board meetings is fundamentally broken and some elected officials are notoriously unresponsive to constituent requests, so this would be a huge opportunity. 

    Please give these ideas some thought.

  • Sensible ideas. We have asked readers in the past for questions, and we’ll certainly do it in future (in fact, I can guarantee that in the not-too-distant future). I like Reddit’s AMAs (and accept your caveats), and it’s something we should look into.

  • I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 10 years and I attended some of the early meetings about what BUSD initially wanted to do with this campus after the Adult School moved.  I certainly don’t know all the details, but I would like to add some background.

    The first community meetings (2003-ish) I attended were extremely contentious.  We gathered in the West Campus Cafeteria.  The consulting firm hired by BUSD gave everyone little paper cutouts and a map of the campus.  We were provided questions like “where should all the school buses go?”  It was insulting.  The district had hoped to move the central kitchen, park a bunch of buses there, and in general, dump a whole lot of problems out here on the West Side.  They also proposed to sell all the land adjacent to University Avenue to private development.  It was a mess.  I’ve never seen so many people enthusiastic for information and become absolutely out-of-their-minds furious so quickly.

    As a resident and close neighbor of West Campus, I am relieved at the outcome.  But here’s the big lesson I learned from watching this unfold in my back yard:  No one trusts anyone in this town. There are some cray-zee citizens who will light themselves on fire if you want to spend money on renovating an asbestos-filled building from the 1950s.  People spent YEARS fighting with BUSD to daylight Strawberry Creek that flows under the parking lot of West Campus.  

    If the most vocal citizens could let go of their pet issues (creek daylighting, pathways, cars-are-evil, etc) and fight for a bigger picture AND if public officials could be less underhanded and just server the damn public, MAYBE projects like this wouldn’t take 8 years.

    Just seeing a freshly painted parking lot with new landscaping gives me a small jolt of civic pride.  Which is kind of depressing when you think about it.

  • anonymous

     What is most depressing about that freshly painted parking lot with its new landscaping is how exposed it leaves the child care center to the fumes, noise and potential for accident that arise from the adjoining car park.  Only a chain link fence separates the newly surfaced space from the childrens’ playground.  How could it be that BUSD opened the lot to vehicles before mitigating its impact on the children?

  • Anonymous

     Please run for office CaptFuzz.  You sound exactly like what this city needs.

  • Thatguest

    Creek daylighting is something I could get behind.

    The few places where it’s visible it’s quite nice, and it’s not like there isn’t enough unused space at West Campus to use some other part of it as a parking lot.

  • Charles_Siegel

     “If the most vocal citizens could let go of their pet issues (creek
    daylighting, pathways, cars-are-evil, etc) and fight for a bigger
    picture AND if public officials could be less underhanded and just
    server the damn public, MAYBE projects like this wouldn’t take 8 years.”

    I think we would also accomplish a lot more if the most vocal citizens let go of this pet issue: no development anywhere near my backyard.

  • You are right, Charles.  That is the biggest issue.  Forgot to mention the NIMBY-ism.  It’s usually the elephant in every civic meeting I’ve been to.

  • Welcome, Thatguest.  You’ll fit right in around here.  Toasters are on the left.  Make yourself at home.

  • Thanks Anon.  It’s a perverse fantasy of mine.

  • EBGuy

    I knew that REALM charter school was eventually going to end up at this location.  I didn’t realize it, but classes for the REALM high school (freshman and sophomores) begin tomorrow at West Campus. More of West Campus is scheduled to be rehabbed for REALM (to the tune of $6.7milllion of Measure AA funds) with a completion date of Winter 2013/14.  BUSD students receive a 4 to 1 advantage in the charter school lottery over out of district placements.

  • anonymous

    So glad that the BUSD administrators’ offices are so nice.  Though maybe that money could have been better spent on some real classrooms to get the kids out of the “portables” and basement classrooms at my kid’s elementary school.