Visitors get excited upon entering the new recreation space at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

The North Berkeley Senior Center held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this week to celebrate the completion of its renovation project. And while a couple of hundred people came to tour the facility, hear city dignitaries speak and watch the ribbon cutting, one crucial detail was missing: the opening day announcement. 

North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.

The center was due to open in March after many delays partly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a prolonged dispute with the contractor. Four months later, it still remains closed to the public.  

Tanya Bustamante, Berkeley’s Aging Services Division manager who oversees all of the senior services in the city, said staff is expected to move into the center in August. But before it opens its doors, the fire marshal must issue a certificate of occupancy, which is required for the “construction of new buildings or changes in the existing use or occupancy classification of a building or portion thereof.”

“I’ve been told we should allow for a few weeks for that to happen before we can move in,’’ Bustamante said.

The North Berkeley Senior Center is among the largest projects funded by the $100 million Measure T1 bond voters approved in 2016. It closed for construction in 2019 to undergo a major seismic retrofit and other renovations and was expected to take 12-18 months to complete.   

District 3 Councilperson Ben Bartlett, HHCS Director Dr. Lisa Warhuus, Vice Mayor Kate Harrison, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen, and Director of Public Works Liam Garland cut the ribbon at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

The center was initially projected to cost $8.7 million. Last year, the city signed off on a $350,000 increase to pay for additional work, including resurfacing the parking lot and installing an announcement center and two electric car charging stations. 

The all-electric building was seismically retrofitted, a new HVAC system was installed along with fire sprinklers and solar panels, Bustamante said. In addition, cosmetic work was done to the interior and exterior, and other upgrades were made to make the building more energy efficient.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who helped cut the ribbon Thursday, said it was unfortunate that disagreements with the Hayward contractor, DL Falk Construction, delayed the process of opening the facility. 

“It’s a beautiful project they did in the end,” he said. “I think it turned out really nicely and I think it’s gonna really be great for not just seniors but the whole community.”

So what’s inside the senior center?

Visitors explore the new recreation areas at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

The senior center offers a variety of services, including exercise and arts classes and free lunches for seniors, but it’s also open to the community.

The basic footprint of the 20,700 square-foot two-story building “has not changed,” Bustamante said. 

On the first floor, there’s a reception desk, a lounge area, and a large multipurpose room that’s used for free lunch services, community meetings and presentations, and classes and activities for seniors. There are several other classrooms, including a computer lab and smaller multipurpose rooms. There’s a ceramics classroom, and a new meditation room for seniors to meet case managers and counselors. 

Upstairs, there are several medium to small multipurpose classrooms used for classes and activities, commission meetings, and community presentations. 

“On any given day, we have hundreds of seniors coming in through our doors,” Bustamante said. “We probably see a little over 100 people coming in just for our diamond lunch service. And then probably another 100 or so just coming in for the various activities and classes that we provide.”

The opening can’t come soon enough for many of those who have been waiting years.

Peter Destor, who turns 78 on Monday, was able to find senior housing through the center. 

“I know a lot of the people there come down here for various classes and for the free lunch that they get and you know for the social part.”

Vicky McAdams of the Golden Gate Weavers Guild visits the North Berkeley Senior Center, where the guild will continue to gather for meetings, on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Vicky McAdams, 61, president of the Golden Gate Weavers Guild, which has been around since the 1930s, held its monthly meetings at the center before it closed and is hoping to get back in soon. Her group of about 30 members has been meeting over Zoom and at members’ homes.   

Charlene Kalagian, 74, took free Italian language classes with about a dozen other people. They have also had to find new meeting places.

“I know that people come here for different reasons,” she said. “We relied on it because where else would we meet in a public space that was large enough to hold a small group?”

Her wish list was better acoustic and she was hoping the rugs would be removed. 

“You want to be able to hear things clearly and not have it bouncing off the walls,” she said. The rugs were removed from the facility.

Bustamante said it has been a “really long and challenging journey.” 

“I’m just really, really excited that we’ll be able to reopen and provide services again to our seniors, and I know that they’ve been waiting very patiently for the center to reopen and my staff and I are just so grateful that we’ll be able to do that very soon.”

Center staff members greet visitors at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Visitors are treated to cupcakes at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Visitors enjoy the new lounge area at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Visitors check out the recreation rooms at the new North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Visitors check out the activity rooms at the new North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Visitors read about the new lounge area at the North Berkeley Senior Center on July 28, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Before joining Berkeleyside as editor-in-chief in April 2021, Pamela was a longtime editor at the Bay Area News Group. Her roles there included night city editor and managing editor for the Oakland Tribune...