Berkeley officials are working on plans to replace the cramped clubhouse at Willard Park with a bigger building they say could become a hub for children’s programs and the broader community.
And, to set the record straight: Those plans don’t include a “homogenized corporate-style office park,” as several flyers posted around the park and on social media falsely claimed.
Instead, city officials have been soliciting feedback at public forums about something a lot more straightforward — a new clubhouse on the site of the current one in the park’s southeast corner, as well as a new restroom for park users.
“If you have been by the clubhouse, you know that it’s in desperate need of a rehab,” Councilmember Lori Droste, whose district includes the park, said at a virtual forum about the project on Thursday.
A final design has not yet been chosen, but the front-runner of three options that were presented at the forum calls for a one-story clubhouse with an 1,800-square-foot classroom that could be divided into two rooms, plus another 900-square-foot room. The building would have a kitchen, fenced outdoor play area and office and storage rooms.
New restrooms could go next to the updated clubhouse, or by the park’s tennis courts.
The current clubhouse, which was built in 1971, offers less than 600 square feet of space.
Proponents of the project say a bigger facility would allow the after-school programs and camps that use the facility to expand, eliminating waitlists. The rooms could also serve as community space for events or classes.
Berkeley has budgeted $7 million from 2016’s Measure T1 to pay for the project.
The flyers opposing the project, photos of which circulated on Nextdoor, were also misleading in their claim that the city planned to “bulldoze a large portion of Willard Park” to build the new clubhouse; renderings show a sliver of the southern end of the park’s lawn being converted into a walkway around the new building. Still, the potential loss of any lawn space was a concern for some neighbors at last week’s forum.
“The kids need open space more than they need classroom space,” said Mark Lowe, who lives near the park and wants to see the city “downsize” its plans. Other options for the new clubhouse include smaller classrooms.
Some neighbors also said they were opposed to a new clubhouse because they were worried about the noise and traffic impacts from having more children at the park. Others supported the rebuild, saying it would create more opportunities for kids to enjoy Willard Park.
“The facilities at this park pale in comparison to the parks in the north part of Berkeley,” Councilmember Ben Bartlett said at the public forum. “It’s imperative that we hone in on equity and make sure that everyone has the same chance to enjoy public life here.”
Officials plan to continue design work over the coming months, with the goal of starting construction in late 2022 and opening the new clubhouse in 2024.