The new track at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School is set to be finished by September. Photo: Camille Baptista

By Camille Baptista

Those who have tried to use the track or field at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School recently know that bulldozers have taken over the area, gates are locked, and temporary fencing is blocking the pathway coming from the school.

Shortly after King students left for summer, renovations began to replace irrigation and grass in the field and to make the track into an all-weather track. The plan laid out by the Berkeley Unified School Board in 2011 only involved improvements to the field, which has become uneven over time, but community members wanted to add track resurfacing to the project.

“There was a big push to get an all-weather track, and that’s what the top priority was,” said Lew Jones, maintenance director for the Berkeley Unified School District.

Currently, the King Middle School track, which has a street entrance on Hopkins Street between Josephine Street and Colusa Avenue, is shorter than a standard regulation track. However the construction project does not include plans to lengthen it, or to change its shape. Despite much debate in past years between community members and the city about making the track full-length, Jones said this was not a priority for those who spoke up in favor of an all-weather track.

Funding for the project is coming chiefly from Measure I, with a small portion coming from Measure A. Construction will cost a total of $817,000, but the total project cost — which includes project managers, testing, and other factors — is not yet available.

Jones said the old irrigation system at the King field is something the district has long wanted to fix.

“We knew it had been a problem for a number of years,” he said. When the School Board laid out a ten-year plan of district construction projects in 2011, the King field project was on the list.

Jones said the construction has gone smoothly so far, and the all-weather track should be in place and ready for use by the time students return in the fall. The field will be done in November or December.

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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