For Immediate Release
Contact: Trish McDermott, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-644-6320
Berkeley, CA—December 10, 2021—Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) today announced the closing and relocation of its Plant Operations facility at 1707 Russell St. in Berkeley. This relocation, which is due to structural and indoor environmental safety concerns at the facility, will impact more than 70 BUSD employees. During the next several weeks, most facility staff will be relocated to other facilities or be asked to temporarily work virtually while the district organizes moves to new buildings, likely to occur during the winter and spring of 2022. A limited number of employees, generally those working for only a very short period of time each day in building areas where risk mitigation work has been completed, are being permitted to temporarily remain in the building.
In the Summer of 2021, BUSD began work to address several known issues at the Russell Street location, including water collection in several old underground sump tanks. Included in the scope of this project were inspections of the overall facility for additional, unknown hazards.
In the fall of 2021, site investigation with the consultant design team revealed that an unused basement underneath the shop building at the Plant Operations facility had filled with groundwater during an unusually rainy period. Unless pumped, it appeared to these design professionals that this water would not recede until the spring, and that this problem may have been longstanding. Because the buildings are unreinforced masonry, this led to a concern about the possible degradation of the foundation caused by prolonged periods under water. A structural engineering firm the district contracted with is expected to submit a complete structural report about the building in late January; BUSD understands that this report will include a recommendation that no one should occupy these buildings without substantial new upgrades.
Also as part of the original remediation project, on Monday, November 29, 2021, the environmental consultant the district contracted with met with BUSD’s Executive Director, Facilities John Calise to deliver preliminary findings from the environmental investigation the district commissioned. These preliminary results indicate significant indoor hazards including mold and lead, and less significant soil contamination that is expected to require abatement. At this time, there is no indication that the environmental concerns pose an active risk to the local community. BUSD expects to receive a completed environmental report in early 2022.
“Because of the nature of the issues outlined in the preliminary findings on the structural integrity and environmental concerns of the Plant Operations facility, it was important that the district take immediate action, even before we receive the completed reports,” said Superintendent Brent Stephens. “BUSD will comply with all OSHA requirements related to staff notifications of potential exposure to hazardous substances.”
The Plant Operations facility houses numerous BUSD departments, including Maintenance and Operations, Facilities, Construction and Program Management, Security, Nutrition Services, Cooking and Gardening, Technology, the Purchasing Warehouse, the Print Shop and the Nutrition Services Warehouse. No cooking or meal preparation takes place at the facility, and the food storage area is separate from areas marked as concerning by the study consultants. The facility also provides secure parking for approximately 35 BUSD vehicles associated with these departments.
BUSD will plan to make available the completed environmental reports once they are received, and will host a community meeting about the topic soon after these reports are available.
BUSD plans to undertake outreach to inform the school community and facility neighbors of this relocation. This includes neighbors in the direct vicinity of the Plant Operations facility who are likely to see unusual activity in the near future as staff are relocated, and neighbors of the Berkeley Adult School, where vehicles will be parked temporarily until a replacement parking facility is located.
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