North Berkeley Senior Center set to close for yearlong construction; programs, meetings to be relocated

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The North Berkeley Senior Center will close in January — and will remain closed for the duration of 2019 — for seismic retrofitting and maintenance upgrades.

During the retrofitting, amenities and services will be accommodated by the West and South Berkeley Senior Centers.

The North Berkeley Senior Center houses a wide array of community services, including city commission meetings as well as programs and resources for the elderly. The center is also a designated emergency storm shelter, according to Tanya Bustamante, Berkeley’s aging services division manager. Because it is listed as a care and shelter facility, the building is required to be earthquake-safe and will undergo construction for 12 to 18 months.

In addition to seismic retrofitting, which will entail the installation of weight-bearing shear walls, the North Berkeley Senior Center will undergo updates to expand the center’s programs and update classrooms to be more multifunctional, according to Bustamante.

“The North Berkeley Senior Center has incredible resources for our senior and older adult community here in Berkeley,” Bustamante said. “We provide a space for socialization and learning and really being kind of that second home for a lot of community members.”

The retrofitting will be funded by T1 — a $100 million municipal bond measure passed by Berkeley voters in 2016 — with additional support from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

Although it isn’t yet clear where the emergency storm shelter will be temporarily relocated, city commission meetings will be held at the South Berkeley Senior Center and the West Berkeley Senior Center. Bustamante said the city’s website will soon be updated with information about the changes.

Berkeley resident Brit Hadden visits the North Berkeley Senior Center almost daily, as he said the center provides “valuable” computer access. Hadden said transportation to the South Berkeley Senior Center will be a hurdle during renovations in 2019 and that he plans on taking his bike.

“I was a little shocked, but I guess they’re required by law to retrofit,” Hadden said. “It’s sort of a headache. … It’s one less drop-in center, so it’s not good for people that want to come down here, especially for the seniors that live in this area.”

Henry Ma, who also frequents the center, uses the North Berkeley Senior Center for his weekly karaoke meeting. For the group of elderly Chinese residents who, for eight years, have turned a classroom into a karaoke room every Wednesday, the North Berkeley Senior Center serves as a vital space for socializing. Upon hearing of the planned 2019 retrofitting, Ma said he now has “no place to go,” and that his group was unable to relocate to the West Berkeley Senior Center.

“We are trying to find some place, but it seems, to me, very difficult. They have a West Berkeley Senior Center, but the room is very small,” Ma said. “It’s very important for us.”

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.