A construction delay at a Pacific School of Religion building postponed the move-in date for REALM Middle School, the director said. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

REALM Middle School started up again this week, but not — yet — in its new building at the Pacific School of Religion. School officials said they signed a short-term lease at the old Tehiyah Day School property in El Cerrito this month, after learning of a last-minute construction delay at the new Berkeley site.

The charter school, which has a middle and high school campus in Berkeley, recently got official approval from the Zoning Adjustments Board to carry out its plans to move to the Pacific School of Religion in the hills this year. The plan allowed REALM, which has dealt with interconnected financial and facility struggles for some time, and had to leave the property it rented from Berkeley Unified this year, to stay in operation in Berkeley.

But unexpected seismic requirements and other issues that came up this month prevented contractor Blueline Construction from readying the site in time for the first day of school this Wednesday, said Victor Diaz, REALM’s executive director.

The temporary lease allows the middle school to stay in El Cerrito through the end of September. Diaz said he hopes to get students into their new Berkeley building by then.

Tehiyah, facing financial pressure and declining enrollment, closed its doors this summer after nearly 40 years in operation, and put the property on the market. The Jewish private school, at 2603 Tassajara Avenue, served many Berkeley families over the years.

“We have received several offers which the board is currently reviewing,” said Tehiyah board chair Kara Vuicich in an email. “It will take at least 60 days to close on a sale of the property, so REALM’s lease will be over before the property is sold.”

Diaz, reached by phone Thursday just after the students’ lunch break, said the first couple days at the site had gone well.

“This is a great facility,” he said. “Everybody looks happy and excited to be back.”

Many families at REALM, Berkeley Unified’s only charter schools, live in Contra Costa County, closer to the temporary site, already. Once the students start in Berkeley, REALM will provide free shuttle service there from Richmond, Diaz said. In El Cerrito, that service will be offered in the opposite direction, for families who live in Berkeley to get to school at the Tehiyah campus. 

The temporary location change is not the only recent shake-up at REALM, which stands for Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement. The middle school principal left, so Diaz is serving as both that school’s principal and the executive director overseeing both campuses. The high school, still at its facility on Eighth Street, has a new principal too. Earlier this month, Diaz declined to comment on why the principal positions changed.

Diaz said he was not required to get approval from the school district to make the temporary move outside BUSD boundaries, but said he has kept administrators up to date on the plans.

A BUSD spokesman said there are steps a charter school must follow to change locations.

“I’m informed that there are procedural requirements when a charter school temporarily relocates,” said Charles Burress in an email. “The district is trying to determine if they apply, and has not made a determination at this time.”

REALM is on a different schedule than the rest of BUSD, which starts school Monday.

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...