Major renovations of the Berkeley High School Community Theater and the West Campus are among a series of construction projects planned for the Berkeley Unified School District.
The School Board voted Jan. 11 to reallocate the revenue from Measure I, a $210 million bond measure passed by Berkeley voters in 2010. So far, revenue from Measure I has helped complete the Tim Moellering Field, the BHS South of Bancroft stadium project, and other district construction. The new plan redistributes the remaining $112.6 million, previously scheduled for many smaller projects, to a few larger projects to address efficiency issues and increasing enrollment.
The biggest ticket item on the new list is the $35 million renovation of the BHS A Building, which houses the Community Theater, the Florence Schwimley Little Theater, and performing arts classrooms. The proposed plan adds five new classrooms to the building.
Presenting the reallocation plan to the board in November, BUSD facilities director Timothy White said the planned modernization of the Community Theater will “reestablish that theater as a preeminent” public venue.
“But the primary purpose will always be for the education of our students,” he said.
Under the new plan, BHS also gets a new staff parking structure with multi-use athletics courts above it, on the site of the former tennis courts on Milvia Street between Bancroft and Durant.
Another large chunk of the money is dedicated to renovating the West Campus at 2020 Bonar St., where the School Board meets. REALM Charter School’s high school currently leases part of the building from the district. The board voted Jan. 25 against extending the high school’s lease past this academic year. REALM and BUSD had previously agreed to end the lease in June, but REALM later requested to extend it past this year, said BUSD spokesman Charles Burress.
“We are planning on Realm relocating by the end of the current lease,” Burress wrote in an email to Berkeleyside.
The modernization of West Campus is designed to enable the building to serve as a “swing site” that will house classes displaced during planned construction at Oxford Elementary and on the BHS A Building. The $10 million Oxford construction project, including the addition of a multipurpose room and new classrooms, is included in the reallocated Measure I plan. All Oxford classes may temporarily relocate to West Campus during that work.
In November, board members cautioned that the district will have to handle the relocation with care.
“One challenge is schools in Berkeley are not used to that sort of large-scale disruption, with the exception of possibly Berkeley High… and Washington,” board Vice President Josh Daniels said. “That sort of move without extensive community discussion would likely cause some pushback.”
“It’s not unheard of in this district but it’s been a long time” since an entire school was relocated, said Board President Ty Alper. “Schools can deal with it but it does require a lot of planning and communication.”
The West Campus renovation is also designed to equip the site to serve potentially as a new elementary school in the future. The elementary schools in South Berkeley have accommodated increased enrollment from across the district in recent years because those campuses have the largest combined capacity. The district expects to enroll another 144 students over the next five years because of new residential development. Converting West Campus into a new school with 15 classrooms would provide needed capacity and spread the student body more evenly across the city, White said.
The reallocation plan also dedicates $12.5 million to revamping the cafeterias and food service at five elementary schools: Washington, Berkeley Arts Magnet, Malcolm X, Emerson and John Muir.
The district’s maintenance operation facility at Russell and Oregon Streets is also slated for a $15 million renovation.
A chunk of the Measure I funds are dedicated to equipping sites at BHS and other schools for new career technical education (CTE) programs. The programs blend academics and vocational training. BHS currently has CTE programs focused on biotechnology, emergency medical response, fire science, digital media, law, and other occupations, with new programs for stagecraft, carpentry, and electronic technology in development. The Measure I funds will prepare facilities including the Community Theater to house CTE programs.
In November, Board Member Karen Hemphill praised the new plan for equipping school facilities to serve multiple purposes and adapt to changes in the district and education landscape.
“That’s not the way we’ve tended to look at our construction,” she said. “It’s been more facility and system replacements, as opposed to looking at: How do our capital projects and major maintenance projects support our educational side of the fence?”
The plan leaves a little more than $5 million unallocated. In the coming months and years, additional funding for facility upgrades could flow in from other sources.
The School Board is set to vote in February on whether to collect fees from real estate developers. Unlike many Bay Area districts, BUSD has never collected developer fees, which are intended to mitigate the impact of nearby development on the district.
The proposal before the board is a fee of $3.38 per square foot of new development, which is projected to yield around $2.75 million in the next five years. The district’s facility needs, including those covered by Measure I funds, amount to $259 million, according to White.
“These are fees that developers are used to paying,” Hemphill said at the Jan. 11 meeting. She argued against the possibility of grandfathering in development that has already been approved but not constructed.
Proposition 51, the $9 billion statewide school construction bond that passed in November, may also bring in additional revenue for BUSD projects, White said.
White and board members discussed planning soon for a follow-up school facilities bond measure for the 2018 or 2020 ballot. That measure could potentially address additional modernization projects, the portables at Washington and Berkeley Arts Magent, and subsidized teacher housing.