The discovery of nonfriable asbestos in a building that needed to be demolished as part of the BHS South of Bancroft Project has delayed the process by seven weeks. Photo: Camille Baptista

By Camille Baptista

Despite delays at the beginning of the school year caused by the discovery of an unexpected type of asbestos, the Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Project is back on schedule, according to Principal Pasquale Scuderi.

The ongoing construction project on the southern end of campus has so far involved installing a stadium on the east side of the athletic field, which has new bleachers standing over a sports facility building with locker rooms, team meeting areas, coaches’ offices and a weight room. A decrepit set of bleachers on the west side of the field has been torn down, as has the seismically-unfit Old Gym to make way for a new academic building along Milvia Street.

Currently underway is the construction of the new academic building, which has yet to be named, and the installation of new visitors’ bleachers on the west side of the field. The latter should be ready when school resumes in the fall.

Funding for the projects comes from bond measures A, AA and I.

“This is really a signature project of our 2010 bond,” said Lew Jones, Berkeley Unified School District’s maintenance director, referring to Measure I, which passed in November 2010. The costs for the projects currently underway total $31.6 million, and the completed phase of the construction, including the stadium, cost an additional $9.4 million.

Delays arose at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year after construction workers found nonfriable asbestos in the Old Gym during demolition. Jones said that contractors had been prepared for some asbestos and had done a survey, but they didn’t discover the nonfriable asbestos until they started the demolition because it was hidden in waterproofing between two slabs of material.

Principal Pasquale Scuderi hopes the classrooms in the new building will be ready for move-in in spring 2014. Photo: Camille Baptista

“We ran into a fairly large change that we weren’t aware of,” Jones said. “It’s not something you could have seen before you demolished part of the building.”

Nonfriable asbestos-containing material (ACM) is a type of ACM that does not crumble into powder when touched, the way friable asbestos does, and it is therefore less likely to quickly contaminate surrounding air. However, because the contractors were not expecting to find it, it pushed the demolition schedule back about seven weeks, as they needed to follow safety protocols and run soil tests.

Jones explained that because the problematic asbestos was a “hidden condition,” the contractor was not at fault for not discovering it during the initial survey. The district therefore assumed the additional costs of removing it and running the tests. Even so, as of now the project is still within budget, but Jones added that there may be cost overruns if new obstacles arise in the future.

Now that construction is back on track, Scuderi hopes the new building will be ready in spring 2014.

Administrators plan to move the school’s world language department into the first two floors of the new building and remove the portable classrooms, where most of the department currently lives. Classes in the Arts and Humanities Academy, one of Berkeley High’s six small schools, whose students have been continually disrupted by a faulty heating and cooling system in the A building, will relocate to the top floor of the new building.

“We’ll have open space there in front of the new stadium building, which I think will be nice,” Scuderi said, explaining that “light demolition” will allow for some new landscaping with benches and trees adjacent to the new building.

Relocation of the academy’s classes will also free up music practice spaces that have been doubling as classrooms in the A building. Scuderi said this will be particularly beneficial for the expanding music department.

“We’re buying more instruments; we’re going to add a guitar class next year,” he said. “So I think it’s a good trade-off there.”

Aerial rendering of new building to replace the Old Gym as part of the South of Bancroft Project. Photo: courtesy Baker Vilar Architects

Administrators have yet to determine the best time for the move-in, which will require moving furniture from other classrooms across campus. It will likely happen over winter break or spring break to avoid interrupting classroom instruction. Once the classes relocate, and the school removes the portables, they will begin reconstructing the softball field, which was taken over when portable classrooms were installed there years ago.

Construction at the athletic field in the southwest corner of campus is also well on its way. Next to the stadium is a smaller building holding a snack bar, which will open for bigger games, and a new, improved sports equipment shed.

When planning the new field layout, the community and the district agreed on the importance of having a low-standing set of visitors bleachers on the west side of the field so as to create a more open view from Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Jones and Scuderi said they don’t foresee anything further slowing down the process, although certain obstacles can be unpredictable.

“With projects this size, when it comes to cost and time, those are always big variables,” Scuderi said.

Read about the South of Bancroft Project on the BUSD website.

This story was updated following an interview conducted after press time. It now reflects additional information regarding the construction project’s funding as well as the nature of the nonfriable asbestos discovery and related costs.

Historic Berkeley High Old Gym makes way for the new (06.28.12)
A funeral for a much loved Berkeley swimming pool [12.15.11]
BUSD addresses concerns over BHS campus construction [10.24.11]
Closure of BHS gym rattles athletes, angers parents [10.07.11]
City supports public education with Measures H and I [11.03.10]
Saving Berkeley High’s Old Gymnasium: A proposal [01.19.10]

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She studies creative writing and human rights at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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