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Run-Down A-Building Awaits $35 Million Renovation

Photograph by Marlena Raines

Planning for the renovations of the Berkeley High School (BHS) A-Building and theaters is underway. On January 11, 2017, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board voted to distribute $112.6 million to several large projects, including the renovation for $35 million. This money is what remains of Measure I, a $210 million bond passed in 2010. The renovations of the Florence Schwimley Little Theater, Community Theater, and other performing arts classrooms would add five classrooms to the building.

Since the plan was first voted in,  “A team of architects and construction experts have convened, drawn up a number of different options, and presented several times to various groups both here at BHS and at the district,” said Erin Schweng, BHS Principal. Theater consultants and various arts staff have also been consulted for the project, said Wyn Skeels, Career Technical Education (CTE) Supervisor.

The project has been split into phases by cost, and the project team is deciding which phase to implement first. Skeels said the current plan is to begin with classrooms in the A-Building, and backstage areas. Architects and faculty groups will meet again on April 26 to present a refined plan and develop schematics for each phase.

The renovation was sparked in part by the need to meet accessibility standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Schweng, as well as to provide more classrooms for the Arts and CTE programs at BHS. “The benefits will be huge — we will have new spaces for those programs, up-to-date access for all users, and a safer building,”  Schweng said.

There’s a lot of “disconnected space and wasted space,” in the A-Building said Skeels, who hopes to create more flow in the building and create a unifying, welcoming space to allow for more collaboration between different classes and arts disciplines. “We’re not allowed to change the exterior of the building very much,” said Skeels, “but the inside can be gutted.”

The plan is not without costs. The renovation will have to stick within the budget. Additional challenges could occur during construction, said Schweng, when classes and performances could be forced to move. If all goes smoothly, finalized plans should be presented early next fall, said Skeels. State architects and the board will then need to approve them. Construction could begin as early as June of 2019.