BERKELEY -- Having a meth lab next door to a preschool is not normally a good idea.

But the Nia House Learning Center here is reaping the benefits of a bust six years ago that shut down a city-owned home where a 47-year-old man in a homeless halfway house was caught making methamphetamine in 2008.

Instead of selling the Ninth Street home after it spent $28,000 to do toxic cleanup, the city held on to the property and is now leasing the land to Nia House, which has been next door to the property for 33 years.

Nia House is in the midst of a fundraising effort so it can tear down the house and build two new classrooms, said Executive Director Eve Uberman.

A student at the Nia House Learning Center in Berkeley, Calif., shows off a school book on Tuesday June 10, 2014. The school is raising funds to knock down
A student at the Nia House Learning Center in Berkeley, Calif., shows off a school book on Tuesday June 10, 2014. The school is raising funds to knock down a city-owned house next door and build two new classrooms. (Doug Oakley/Bay Area News Group) ( Doug Oakley )

"The closing of that house next door allowed us the opportunity to expand," said Uberman, whose school, which currently serves 50 students, has a waiting list of 200. The expansion would add 34 students, she said.

Nia House is also on a city-owned lot and now leases both lots for $2,500 a year. In addition, Berkeley subsidizes the Montessori school to the tune of $34,000 a year, Uberman said.

Following the meth lab bust, the city planned to sell the home and the land for about $500,000, but that never happened because the two lots were too intertwined to separate for a sale. As a result the house has been boarded up ever since.

Uberman said Nia House has so far received pledges for donations of $260,000. The school needs $190,000 more as leverage to borrow money for construction. She said the school also is hoping to launch a "direct public offering" through an Oakland organization called Cutting Edge Capital that will allow individuals to loan Nia House money and earn a competitive taxable interest rate.

"Individuals who believe in the work of their local preschool can lend us money," said Uberman, who added that she is waiting for approval from the state to go ahead with the financing plan.

Nia House Learning Center Executive Director Eve Uberman, standing in background, talks to a parent in Berkeley, Calif., on Tuesday June 10, 2014. Uberman
Nia House Learning Center Executive Director Eve Uberman, standing in background, talks to a parent in Berkeley, Calif., on Tuesday June 10, 2014. Uberman said the school is raising funds to tear down a city-owned home, shown in the background, which it is now leasing so it can build two new classrooms. The home was formerly used as transitional housing for the homeless but was shut down in 2008 after a meth lab was discovered inside. (Doug Oakley/Bay Area News Group) ( Doug Oakley )

If all goes well, the school will begin tearing down the old house next door in the fall and will be finished with the new classrooms by March of next year, she said.

Uberman said the school considered remodeling the house, but it would cost more to do that than tearing it down and building the two new classrooms.

For details, go to the Nia House website at http://niahouse.com/wp and click on "Program Expansion."

Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.