Opinion: It’s time to begin preparing for another bond for Berkeley’s schools

Berkeley schools are among the safest buildings in the state because voters have passed three bond measures. It’s time to think about what goes in the next one.

Berkeley schools are among the safest buildings in the state, thanks to three successive facilities bonds passed by city voters. Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the first of three 10-year bonds was passed, along with a maintenance parcel tax.

That bond focused on seismically upgrading the Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) elementary schools. Our school buildings are safe. The city’s first responders view them as community resources in cases of emergencies.

The companion maintenance parcel tax funds a maintenance department that can properly maintain the multi-million dollar investment made in the district’s schools. It is up for renewal in 2020.

In 2000, the second 10-year bond was passed and work continued on the middle schools, infrastructure improvements and grounds, including playfields.

In 2010, a third bond, Measure I, funded work on Berkeley High School, adding a new classroom building along with gyms, a pool, locker rooms and fields for the more than 40% of BHS students who play sports. Solar panels and other environmental upgrades were installed at several schools, saving BUSD thousands of dollars in energy costs.

State-of-the-art shops and labs were built for the district’s growing Career Technical Education program. CTE is restoring programs in career training for well-paying occupations that employers and unions need and are partnering with BUSD to create.

Improved cafeterias and access at several elementary schools will be completed by the time Measure I expires in 2020. Berkeley High’s A Building classroom wing will be completely redesigned to serve the needs of the Visual & Performing Arts programs that include music, art, dance and drama along with adding badly needed classrooms.

As all homeowners know, the job of maintaining and improving buildings never ends. Things wear out. New technologies emerge. This is especially true for schools, which are among the most heavily used buildings in town.

Now is the time to begin planning for another 10-year bond for 2020-2030. What’s left to be done? Many things. BUSD plans a widespread process to discuss projects and priorities along with the needs of our student population with families, students, teachers, staff and administrators. Community meetings will be held and everyone’s opinion will be heard.

The District’s bond expenditures are overseen by an independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC). This citizens’ review process ensures that proposed projects are for educational purposes and were within the specifications of the bond. A yearly independent audit by an outside firm is overseen by the CBOC and reported out to the board and the community.

Perhaps the single largest outstanding project in the district for a new bond cycle is the overhaul and modernization of the Berkeley Community Theater, which has not been improved since the early 1950’s. As a national historic landmark building, great care needs to be taken to both restore it and bring it into the 21st century technologically.

Other needs include a new maintenance facility. The current, crumbling structure was built in the early 1900s of unreinforced brick. It is so unsafe that it is off limits to students. Many of the mechanical systems at elementary schools that were replaced in the first bond cycle, 1990-2000, have aged out and must be replaced. Staff housing is under discussion as BUSD loses critical faculty and staff because of housing costs.

This is not meant to be a complete or comprehensive list of facilities’ needs for BUSD, but, rather, a beginning of the process to both determine and prioritize them. The BUSD Facilities Departmenthas already developed a list of educational specifications and programmatic needs, defined by families, teachers, staff and administrators, that will help guide projects for the upcoming bond. To maintain the high standards of our schools, it’s time to plan for the future.

Stephanie Allan is a long-time Berkeley resident who has worked on every facilities bond since 1990. She is the parent of a Berkeley High School graduate.