In the summer of 2020, Berkeley High School (BHS) started major renovations on the A Building. The entire process was estimated to last around two years, with intentions of improving seismic safety, accessibility, and classroom space. Now, almost three years later, BHS Vice Principal Harrison Blatt has announced to teachers that the building is ready for use again. According to Blatt, the classes moved back into the A Building include sound design, film editing, chorus, guitar, drama, stagecraft, jazz, orchestra, and band.
“In addition to seismic upgrades, the building is now state of the art with technology and design to support all the various programs that are in it,” Blatt said. “The design of the building is really incredible. What we’re going to be able to do for the programs, it’s going to be better than what anybody could have hoped for.”
Blatt admitted that the renovation came with its fair share of challenges. “There’s tons of challenges that come from renovating a building on an existing school campus. A handful of teachers and the hundreds of students they serve have been displaced. They’ve had to move out, and they’ve had to move back in.” He explained that the disruption to classes caused difficulties, as time is an extremely important resource to teachers.
While the A Building has been under construction, classes such as Band and Orchestra (BAO) have had to move to smaller temporary rooms called portables, Blatt said. The portables are located near the M Building entrance of the school, unlike the A Building by the Allston entrance.
“When we did full orchestra rehearsals it was cramped,” said Matilda Starbuck, a student in BAO. “Especially when we did chamber music, some groups had to play outside, or in rooms kind of far away, or really small rooms, or multiple ensembles per room. So, it was a little uncoordinated in that way.”
Starbuck added that despite the lack of space, overall, she felt that the portables were a good substitute and served their purpose.
On December 7, Blatt received confirmation that classes could be moved back into the A-Building, and informed the affected teachers. Teachers were asked to have everything packed up and ready to move by December 16, the last school day before winter break.
“We packed things up in the portables and moved them all into the J Building,” Starbuck said. “We moved the instruments — unless people were taking them home for break to practice, we moved tables and chairs, and all the music. Then we cleaned the rooms a little bit.”
Starbuck expressed her excitement about the reopening of the A Building, saying that the rooms and sound quality showed major improvements. “It’s optimized for doing exactly what we’re doing. It should be really good going forward,” she said.
The completion of the A Building impacts many students, from freshmen to seniors. Starbuck said that even for those who have never seen the building before, they’ve still had at least half a year to experience the anticipation of the renovations. “For those who have seen the old building it’s probably even more exciting because they already have an idea of what it looked like. They can see the difference and they can see the improvements,” she said.
With all of the challenges that this project has brought, Blatt said that students and staff have been incredibly persistent. “I just am really grateful and impressed with the resilience, the patience, the flexibility, and the adaptability of the students and staff. It’s been a huge challenge, and what I’ve seen is that folks are really focused on the promise that this new building brings to our school and our programs.”