The Pool and the School 

When the disabled and elderly go up against public schools, nobody wins

Berkeley High teacher Tim Moellering addressed the school board at a recent meeting. "I am one of Berkeley's finest teachers so I don't need a classroom," he deadpanned. Then he pulled a dry-erase marker out of his pocket and held it aloft. "I have this. I can take this anywhere I go and create a lesson. We could have class in the park. We could have class on the steps of the community theater. We could have class in a warm pool."

Moellering might have been joking, but he wasn't exaggerating. A majority of teachers in Berkeley's only high school are either sharing a classroom with another teacher or moving from room to room during the day. Some teach in the lobby of the school's community theater.

Dozens of teachers from Berkeley High were asking their board members for additional classrooms as soon as possible. They were calling on the district to speed up delivery of ten new prefab classrooms so they would be in place before the start of the next school year. But outgoing school superintendent Michele Lawrence told them it wasn't going to happen. The new classrooms are not likely to be in place until many months into the next school year.

Lawrence said that the delay has been caused by a pool. The Warm Water Pool, located on the high school campus, has been surrounded in turmoil for at least a decade. Local elderly and disabled people consider the pool to be their only lifeline to ease the pain and stiffness in their joints and limbs. And they're battling to keep it from being demolished. Lawrence said that the district has had to spend time and resources fighting off an attempt to landmark the building housing the pool, as well as a subsequent lawsuit. "The idea here is to tear down that old gym and build your classrooms," Lawrence said.

But Councilwoman Dona Spring, the lead elected official advocating for warm pool users, doesn't think that Lawrence was telling the teachers the whole story. "They've never been ready to do anything," Spring said of the plan to demolish the pool and build new classrooms. "They haven't even gone to the voters to ask for the money for the project."

The only compromise on the table is to replace the old warm pool with a new one right across the street, and plans have been discussed for the school district to sell the lot to the city. Councilwoman Spring thinks she now has the support of the majority of the Berkeley City Council to place a bond measure on the November ballot. If Spring gets her way at the February 12 council meeting, then the voters will have their chance to weigh in on a $15 million bond measure to construct a new warm pool in Berkeley.

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