Hillside Association of Berkeley
Summary Status Report on Hillside School, January 2006
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The large Hillside School on LeRoy and Buena Vista avenues, designed by Walter Ratcliff, was constructed in 1928, and the building now has landmark status at both city and federal levels. After many years of service, it was closed by the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) in the early eighties because the elementary student population was then low. Later, its closure was made definitive under California laws which prohibit public instruction in structures very close to a seismic fault.

Since then, BUSD has continued to own the Hillside school, but has been able to spend virtually no funds on its physical upkeep. Space in the building and playground have been used by a number of tenants, including artists, offices, and private schools, but tenants have not been able to offer to buy the property, or even to hold long-term leases because the state education code does not permit a school district to sell or to lease out an educational property benefiting from tax-exempt status. Before selling or leasing an educational property, a school district is required to declare it "surplus" to the district educational mission, and doing this requires setting up a surplusing committee with representation from various elements of the local community, such as neighbors and near-by business people. The surplusing committee, of about ten members, advises BUSD on the disposition of the property, although it does not have binding decision-making powers.

In early 2005, the Board of BUSD decided to take steps to declare the Hillside School surplus. Nominations were requested for members of the surplusing committee, and in the spring the neighborhood put forward four names, of which BUSD has accepted three. There was a delay of several months while BUSD sought other members from different parts of the city to sit on the voluntary and unpaid committee, but a full slate has now been arranged, and the committee will begin its work, which is expected to last about a year, in January 2006. It will also review and make recommendations on several other properties elsewhere in Berkeley which BUSD is considering relinquishing.

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