November 9, 2006

Lew Jones, Director of Facilities
Berkeley Unified School District
1720 Oregon Street
Berkeley, California 94703

Re: Draft Environmental Impact Report for South of Bancroft
      Master Plan, Berkeley High School

Dear Lew Jones:

While the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) did not participate in any of the community discussions held or in the subsequent preparation of a South of Bancroft Master Plan for Berkeley High School, BAHA appreciates the opportunity to comment upon the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). BAHA finds the document to be informative and is particularly pleased to find that the Historic Resource Evaluation by Carey & Co. substantiates the significance of the Berkeley High School Gymnasium and Pool (William C. Hays, 1922, Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr. 1929, and Thomas Franklin Chase, structural engineer, 1936/37). BAHA, in turn, has both comments and questions for consideration and analysis in the Final EIR.

First, the contribution the “Old Gym” makes to its historical context, campus setting, and the Downtown Area deserves added emphasis. Berkeley High School, the first accredited high school in California, is integral to Berkeley’s traditions of planning and civic life. The National Register listing of the Civic Center Historic District links the three distinctive Moderne buildings on the northern edge of the campus to the early 20th century buildings that define the city’s municipal center. An expanded District could include the entire High School campus, anchored by the Academic Building (William C, Hays, 1920), or Building C, and completed on the south end by the historic Gym building.

The Gym, noteworthy for its classic design and many architectural features, reflects not only its function and its time, but it is also a kind of handsome “end piece” to Berkeley’s historic Downtown. Its many street-side “open air” classroom windows, the multiple doorways, the rhythm of its roofs and massing heights on every side. Accented by the high walls of window bands, all give it a wonderful character. It is a testament to a long high-school tradition of successful and varied athletic programs, as well as being a testament to the dedication of the city’s early planners and architects, such as William C. Hays, Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr. and Thomas Franklin Chase, who strove to create a gracious city. Whether catching a glimpse of the Gym from Shattuck Avenue or passing by on Milvia Street while traveling toward the residential neighborhoods, the building can be view as an irreplaceable asset to the city’s historic environment.

Furthermore, the Gym gains a new dimension of importance after learning from the Carey & Co. report of the American movement in the early 20th century to build gymnasiums for physical education activities. Berkeley has two other historically significant gymnasiums that have been listed on the National Register, the School for the Blind Gymnasium (Office of the State Architect, 1914) and the Hearst Gymnasium for Women (Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan 1927).

The Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan DEIR is unequivocal that the purpose of the proposed plan is to demolish the Gym and construct new athletic facilities. During previous discussions with the Berkeley Unified School District involving school properties being reviewed for either seismic work and/or replacement BAHA has always urged a preservation alternative of the historic school properties. Again in this instance, a serious preservation alternative would be urged by BAHA. The recent success of the retrofit and renovation work on the northern portion of the Berkeley High campus (Buildings H and G were awarded a BAHA Preservation Award), including the Academic Building and the new buildings along Milvia, now complete a cohesive assemblage that, in fact, harmonize with the Gym. A preservation alternative plan and a reuse plan in this instance would seem to be in the same spirit of success.

Toward this end, BAHA encourages further exploration of the Preservation Scheme in the DEIR and includes some rudimentary questions:

  • Specifically how is the seismic condition of the Gym currently in non-compliance with California State Architect school building regulations?

  • Specifically what seismic work would be necessary to meet life-safety standard of seismic performance?

  • What is the text of the ABS Consulting, Preliminary Seismic Evaluation, Old Gym at the Berkeley High School, December 2001?

  • What is the text of the Glass Architects, City of Berkeley Warm Water Therapy Pool, Preliminary Feasibility Study and Report, April 18, 2005?

  • What is the text of the Butzbach Structural Engineering letter to Akol & Yoshii Architects and Engineers, December 10, 2001?

  • What is the text of the URS Corporation letter to Mr. Lew Jones, December 17, 2001?
  • What is the difference of meeting seismic standards and renovation for long-term use of the Warm Water Pool?

  • How the recent passage of Measure A apply to monies being available for a retrofit of the Gym?

  • How does the citizen mandate of Measure G effect BSUD perspective of demolition vs. preservation/renovation?

  • What would be the cost difference of a retrofit, renovation and redesign of the interior of the Gym for curriculum needs vs. the demolition and rebuild?

  • Wliat would be the cost difference of a retrofit, renovation and redesign—perhaps utilizing the 2nd currently unused pool—for the warm water pool?

  • Why not use the 2nd pool for daily swimming while the Warm Water Pool might be being retrofitted?

  • Is a regulation-size soft ball field not possible in some other configuration?

Again, thank you for consideration of the BAHA comments and questions.


Wendy Markel, President

Copyright © 2007 BAHA. All rights reserved.