BERKELEY -- The Berkeley High baseball team won't celebrate the opening pitch of the 2013 season at the new Tim Moellering sports fields on Derby Street as anticipated, school district officials said this week.
The discovery of asbestos-laden underground pipes and soil, causing delays from PG&E, and rain has slowed construction enough to scrap any guess at an opening date, said Berkeley Unified School District Facilities Director Lew Jones. It is now slated to open sometime during the spring.
Nonetheless, a completed ball field at Derby Street and Martin Luther King Way, on the drawing board for some 15 years, is in sight. Fences and dugouts are in place, and the lot between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street is dotted with big equipment.
"It's been a long time coming," said Jones, who helped shepherd the $4.5 million project through years of political and bureaucratic twists and turns. The fields will include a regulation baseball diamond, space for soccer, hockey, rugby and other field sports, and a basketball court.
The most significant delay was caused by the discovery of underground pipes containing asbestos. The pipes and contaminated soil around them had to be removed.
The large hill of dirt on the west side of the field is topsoil scraped away from the site that eventually will be put back and leveled out.
Built on the former site of Berkeley's alternative high school and independent study center, once known as East Campus, the project faced multiple hurdles during the planning stage. Neighbors feared noise and nighttime use of the field, and there were questions about what would happen to the popular Tuesday afternoon farmers market held on the street next to the field.
Neighbors were satisfied, however, with promises that the field would have no amplified sound or lighting. The farmersmarket was moved to Adeline Street just past Alcatraz Avenue where, according to Councilman Max Anderson, the market is "happy in its new home," near Ashby BART and welcomed by surrounding businesses.
Field designers struggled to figure out how to shoehorn a regulation baseball field into the rectangular block, while providing space for other sports. Neighborhood architects eventually came up with a "curvy Derby" plan to add space to the field at Milvia and Derby by curving the street around the home plate side of the baseball diamond.
Perhaps, the greatest challenge was finding funds for the project. That was resolved in 2010 with the passage of Measure I, which is paying most of the bills.
A $10,000 scoreboard, field sign and other amenities are being funded through gifts from Lonely Island, a comedy-music group with Berkeley High roots, International Business and Electrical Workers Local 595 and others, according to Stephanie Allan, a community member working with the residents and the school district on a committee overseeing the project.
Berkeley High and Berkeley Technology Academy, aka B-Tech, the alternative high school across the street from the field, will schedule field use. When it's not scheduled, the community will be able to use it on an ad hoc basis, according to Jones, who added that the field can also be rented.
Bathrooms were not planned for the complex due to high building and maintenance costs. B-Tech bathrooms are available during school hours and when the field is rented.
School district spokesman Mark Coplan said it's fitting that the playing fields have been named after Tim Moellering, a football, soccer and baseball coach, and an English and history teacher, who died in January 2011.
"Tim Moellering is a product of Berkeley schools, including Cal," Coplan said. "He did the best he could for his students and made them the best they could be."