Demolition moves forward at Berkeley High School’s old gym

Joe Wright/Staff
Demolition on the Berkeley High School old gym is currently in progress.

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The demolition of the Berkeley High School old gym began last week after months of cleaning out the space in preparation.

The building was deemed seismically unsafe by the Berkeley Unified School District School Board of Education in 2007.  Upon this discovery that the building was not safe according to education codes, the district superintendent decided last October to shut down the building since it was already slated to be demolished, according to district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

“It was for two reasons,” said Lew Jones, the district’s director of facilities. “One was that the building was seismically unsafe, and therefore would cost a lot to retrofit, and two was that problematically it didn’t fit with what our needs are in the campus.”

The date for the demolition of the gym was pushed back a number of times partly, due to the controversy over the closing of the warm pool housed in the old gym, according to Coplan.  The Berkeley Pools Campaign fought for the preservation of the warm pool, but a 2010 ballot measure to fund upkeep and renovation for the pools did not pass, leaving very little funding to maintain them.

Demolition of the gym is part of the South of Bancroft Project, a redevelopment plan for the south end of the Berkeley High campus. The first step in the project was the development of the D building on the campus, which houses a pool, locker rooms,  a dance studio and other facilities that are meant to replace those provided by the old gym.  The new facility which will occupy the space of the old gym will include “a soft gym, a 4000-square-foot fitness center and other athletic spaces and 15 new classrooms,” according to Coplan.

As of now, construction on the new gym is scheduled to begin in the fall and finish in November 2013.

“I’m very happy to see the old gym go,” said Chris May, boys varsity lacrosse coach at Berkeley High. “It was really unsafe and really unstable. Honestly, anything would be an improvement.”

The multi-million dollar project is funded primarily by Measure I, a $210 million bond measure passed by voters in 2010 intended for district construction projects.

Meanwhile, other components of the project are also underway. According to Jones, the new stadium alongside the football field is “99.9 percent done” and will be fully completed within the next few weeks.  The 14,309-square-foot building will contain athletic offices, locker rooms and athletic storage space, according to the project website.

By the time the project is completed, a new softball field with new bleachers will replace the portables in the southeast corner of the campus, according to Jones. The parking lot that is currently on the campus will also be eliminated by that time, leaving the off-campus parking lot across the street from the school for staff and teachers, Jones said.

“Having no more cars on the campus and giving that space back to the students will be a great thing,” Coplan said.

The proposed completion date for the entire South of Bancroft project is scheduled for September 2014.