By Doug Oakley
A largely abandoned and dilapidated Berkeley school district building the size of a city block is undergoing a $22 million renovation and will bring at least 100 employees to the University Avenue neighborhood in March.
The West Campus building on University Avenue between Bonar and Curtis streets last housed the Berkeley Adult School and has been empty since 2004. Since its closing the building has collected garbage and attracted homeless people for eight years. A giant parking lot filled with weeds.
Now the parking lot is being repaved, sidewalks are being redone and several renovated buildings will house administrators, 13 charter school classrooms and a school board meeting room.
The administration building on the property is costing $14.5 million and is expected to be finished in March. The board meeting room will cost $1.75 million and is expected to be finished in December.
And 13 classrooms for the Realm charter school, at a cost of $6 million paid by the school district, are expected to be finished at the end of 2013. Fixing up the building and bringing more people into the neighborhood sounds like a good idea to some neighbors and surrounding businesses.
Juha Pellinen, who lives across from the east side of the property on Addison Street, is glad the buildings are being renovated.
"There were homeless people jumping over the fences and sleeping in there before," Pellinen said. "It will be better for security in the neighborhood when the administrators move in."
Pellinen especially likes that the building now will have lights on the perimeter at night.
School district spokesman Mark Coplan said he thinks the construction also will be a plus for the area. He predicts there will be less stress on the neighborhood when buildings are in use.
"When the adult school was here there were 10,000 students registered and there were 300 people there on any given day or night," Coplan said. "So the impact will be far less than it ever was. And now neighbors will have some people here instead of a huge empty space."
Kimmy Tran, whose family opened the Four Seasons Salon eight months ago across the street on University Avenue, is hoping at least some of those new school district employees will come in for haircuts, nail work and waxing.
"I've been waiting for that building to open," said Tran "Business has been dead for a long time. "
Both Tran and Thanu Chaichana, who owns Your Place Thai Cuisine on University Avenue, said the construction already has discouraged the drug dealing in front of the building that was going on before.
"There used to be a lot of homeless and drug dealing in this area, but it's getting better now," Chaichana said. "I think it's going to be better for business. Long time ago, I did have customers who were teachers and students from the adult school."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.