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Windrush Site Owners Seek Public Input

The sale of the Windrush School site in El Cerrito has been completed to a Richmond couple, Steve and Susan Chamberlin, who seek community input on how to use the property to help public education, the couple's representatives told Patch.

The four-acre hillside property once occupied by the recently closed Windrush School has been sold to a Richmond couple who want to use the site and existing buildings in the service of public education, the couple's representatives told Patch.

The property was sold in December to Susan and Steve Chamberlin, according to Julie Wright, executive director of the couple's Pleasanton-based charitable trust, the Chamberlin Family Foundation.

The Chamberlins want to use the site to support public education, either as a public school facility or as an entity that supports public education, Wright said.

No decision has been made on what the use will be, she said. The Chamberlins are seeking community input to gather ideas and suggestions, she said.

"We're not looking at a private school," she said. "We want a public school ... or some other organization or institution that supports kids."

They've established a an email address, Windrush.Facility@gmail.com, to receive public feedback.

"What we're looking for is to hear back from our neighbors," Wright said. "What are their thoughts? What are their visions? We really want it to be collaborative."

Wright said there are no plans to add new structures or to make significant alterations to existing buildings at the high-profile property at Elm and Hill streets, including its two distinctive main structures: the Chinese-themed main building that opened in 1935 as the Chung Mei Home, believed to have been the only orphanage for Chinese boys in the U.S., and the library/middle school building, which was completed in 2008 and secured a LEED Platinum award, the highest green rating. 

It was the latter building that sank Windrush School, which was forced to close last June after 35 years as a private, progressive education-oriented K-8 school. The school issued $13 million in bonds in 2007 to pay for the new building and ultimately defaulted, leaving the property in the hands of Wells Fargo Bank, trustee for the bondholders.

Wells Fargo disclosed in September that it signed a purchase agreement with a newly established California-based limited liability company, Educational Ventures, LLC, for $6.9 million.

Educational Ventures is the legal holder of the property and was set up by the Chamberlins, who are the company's sole owners, said David Richey, a spokesman for the couple.

The couple are now retired and are seeking "to give back to their community," Wright said.

Susan Chamberlin had a career as an architect who oversaw the renovation of the Oakland Museum of California and also worked for the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. Steve Chamberlin is the founder of Chamberlin Associates, a Bay Area commercial development firm. Both have also been members of the professional faculty at the Haas School of Business.

Their Chamberlin Family Foundation, established in 2006, has made at least two large contributions to the Haas School. It reported $1.39 million in charitable contributions, gifts and grants in 2011, and assets with a market value of $28.26 million at the end of the year.

The foundation's website says, "We invest in people and ideas that will create transformational and sustainable change in K-12 public education where inequitable opportunities impede student potential."

Wright said she has already started meeting with community members, including City Manager Scott Hanin, about ideas for the Windrush site, and Richey said public meetings also are being contemplated.

"I'm going to be spending a big part of the coming weeks and months talking to the community," Wright said.

"What we really want to do is have an open dialogue with the community," she said.

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MiddleMom January 22, 2013 at 08:54 PM
What an incredible opportunity for our children!
Jen Komaromi January 22, 2013 at 09:38 PM
Curious how many children the campus can accommodate. Fairmont would greatly benefit from having an improved campus. It would also be wonderful if it could be a home to a special after-care program that would target at-risk students to help give them the skills need to keep up with the fast pace classroom environment. There are so many community needs, it is wonderful of them to be dedicated to public instruction!
sylvia elsbury January 22, 2013 at 10:20 PM
Let's not be too quick to condemn public charter schools, though I am well aware there are more than enough failures to discourage expansion. In fact, a couple of notable exceptions in Oakland are currently enrolling local students who did not find that Portola met their needs.
Kathy A. January 22, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Windrush advertised that it could accommodate 250 students or so; I think the actual count was lower, even before the financial troubles broke and families left. There was some earlier discussion that the campus (especially the historic building) is not up to code to serve as a regular public school campus, nor does it have that capacity. But it could be great as a resource center, and/or for extracurricular and after-school programs. I understand the property has a fairly recent gymnasium. I'd love to hear what teachers have to say!
Renee Cohen January 23, 2013 at 02:14 AM
And would a public library fit this description? Learning is life-long hopefully and an innovativelibrary would serve all. Just a thought sincd,e El Cerrito sorely needs a new library.
Bea Lieberman January 23, 2013 at 03:16 AM
Brainstorming: Perhaps a place that would test and support special needs children? A learning center; after school tutoring, counseling, some health care? A performance stage? A community center of sorts?? Adult classes? A place to study or read quietly? I love the idea of a library!!!
Kathy A. January 23, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Yes! Love this idea.
ECFamily January 23, 2013 at 04:22 AM
Great ideas we've got going here! To respond to a couple of points: --Library sounds like a wonderful idea. --Learning center sounds great, too! How does it work with the Chamberlins? Do they actually FUND the center/school/program, or do they sublet/rent the facility to a third party? --Public school. I agree with both Arden and Sylvia. Arden, I, too, have heard of that charter school in Richmond that has a reputation for bullying and harassing (and firing tons of) teachers, and is also in Program Improvement for both math and English learners. NOT a great model, for sure. But, as Sylvia points out, there are charters that work, such as the charter in Oakland, and our own local charter, Manzanita. Both of these schools treat teachers well and have solid reputations. So, maybe we should contemplate a charter school of some kind (NOT one like the Richmond one, but one that does something different, like the Oakland Art one, or one that focuses on languages or music or sports)? This is a great discussion. Thank you all for such wonderful, positive ideas.
Windrush Neighbor January 23, 2013 at 05:12 AM
I second that idea, it could be put to great educational use right away (with the Fairmont school) for some years till a long term plan was developed and vetted.
Carolyn January 23, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Great ideas here! Love the idea of a center for learning support for the community. Especially as a site for after school programs, tutoring, counseling for at-risk middle/high school youth. Proximity to Del Norte BART, Portola Middle and El Cerrito High offers opportunity to reach a broadly-defined group of youth. The fact that there are two separate buildings opens opportunities for separate but related uses (e.g., library in the newer building, small group activities in the original building). This is such an exciting opportunity. What a generous gift to the community from the Chamberlins!
Leslie Moore January 23, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Thank you Thank you Chamberlins. I am deeply touched by your most generous offer. I will contact you privately, as I would love to keep an ear on what you are doing. I would recommend we immediately try to use it as a temporary site for Fairmont and other school that need to get rebuilt. Frankly, we've authorized $1.2 BILLION plus in bonds, so long term we should not have a "building" problem.....we do have a operating capital problem...no money to lower class size...teachers aren't paid enough, we need to train them for the new common core standards,,,,a place for tutoring would be so awesome....after school programs.... so any way that we can use the facility to further those goals would be simply amazing. I am filled with gratitude.
karen January 23, 2013 at 11:54 PM
I don't think Windrush class rooms can accommodate current class sizes for our WCCUSD schools, and there aren't enough classrooms/teachers to split the kids into two classes of 15 etc... maybe special needs?. I'm thinking training resources for teachers which are vital,that could service ENTIRE district population, not just El Cerrito...but Richmond, San Pablo Pinole, Hercules. Teacher training resource would be killer, maybe even a place that trained substitute teachers so that when teachers were coming for training, their classes could be covered by subs from the foundation.
Susan Wittenberg January 24, 2013 at 12:42 AM
I suggest using the site as a temporary library that would include after school tutoring and homework help. In the new gymnasium. there could be sports programs or fitness programs for youngsters. Within some of the classrooms, after school art and music programs could be offered. I think it is most important that the services provided at the site be available either at no charge to all students who attend the public schools in this part of West County (Richmond, Kensington, El Cerrito) or with substantial scholarships to ensure that if fees are charged, no child is precluded from participating because of an inability to pay. Susan W.
Lara Smith January 24, 2013 at 12:50 AM
Love the idea of a charter school with smaller classes and multiple modes of learning encouraged. We are not sending our son to Madera because of the class-size issues but we'd love a public school we could really endorse.
Karl A. January 24, 2013 at 08:03 AM
What magic makes the WCCUSD schools in El Cerrito different from the ones in Richmond, Charter or not? El Cerrito lacks the students to fill all the current school sites, not to mention the ones that once belonged to what is today the WCCUSD that where built after World War Two, but lay fallow or are in use by private schools at this time?
Dorothy Coakley January 24, 2013 at 09:13 PM
It is a perfect site for both a library and learning center so I support Carolyn's thoughts on the subject. My only request is that it *not* be turned over to WCCUSD for administration. I'd rather see future activities remain independent from the school district. .
Local Parent January 24, 2013 at 10:27 PM
From what I understand, the historic building on the site is not up to current earthquake code and, therefore, cannot be used as a public school (apparently, private schools don't have the same restrictions). However, the same restrictions may not hold true if that building were used for administration purposes only like, for example, teacher training as has been suggested. The rest of the campus should be used to provide teaching to K-12 students, perhaps a dedicated GATE campus.
Mark January 24, 2013 at 11:13 PM
It would make a great language and music center. A place where kids can learn languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, as well as play musical instruments such as piano or the guitar.
Angie January 24, 2013 at 11:13 PM
What an amazing story! I have often thought that I would love to do something to help disadvantage and at risk students. And now the Chamberlin Family Foundation has begun to do so. Providing a educational resource center where children canreceive remedial services as well as enrichment classes for those that are not challenged enough in the regular classroom would be awesome. In fact, allowing the more advanced students (under the supervision of a qualified educator) assist the students that lag behind could be a win-win situation by building confidence and leadership skills in the advanced group. Not to mention having a central location for educators to come together to share ideas and get the resources they need to be effective in the classroom. Lastly, if home economic type classes could be brought back so that students can build basic skills necessary to manage a home and also learn how to cook healthy food as a preventative measure against the rise in juvenile diabetes and obesity that would be great. What a great opportunity to give back to the community. I for one will be looking for opportunities to contribution to this effort in the future. Thank you.
Helen Couture rodriguez January 25, 2013 at 02:09 AM
How about we keep Castro Park as a park and make the old Windrush site the new middle school?
Helen Couture rodriguez January 25, 2013 at 02:16 AM
Good point. Who else is ready for an El Cerrito/Kensington School District?
Helen Couture rodriguez January 25, 2013 at 02:18 AM
I really like your idea, Mark! No matter what, we should make sure the offering is open to all K-12 ages - especially for our middle-schoolers.
janella jones January 25, 2013 at 05:08 PM
This really is a rare and fantastic opportunity! I emailed my suggestion of using the space as an Art Center for the community, but I really like the idea of having an after school program and tutoring available there as well.
janella jones January 25, 2013 at 05:26 PM
I love your idea about offering home economic classes to youth! I don't think schools have stopped offering classes in cooking and managing a household budget.
Local Parent January 25, 2013 at 06:46 PM
The next WCCUSD Board of Education meeting is scheduled for February 6th at 6:30pm. More information may be available then. (http://www.wccusd.net//site/Default.aspx?PageID=2&PageType=17&DomainID=1&ModuleInstanceID=1459&EventDateID=6066)
Amy Kang January 25, 2013 at 08:10 PM
@Helen: Do you really think the Chamberlins would want Windrush used for an El Cerrito/Kensington district? For one thing, they're from Richmond and for another, their reason for this incredibly generous gift is to lessen inequality in education, not increase it!
Valerie Snider January 25, 2013 at 08:39 PM
Amy, I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say "inequality in education." In the WCCUSD all of the grants and special programs fund services for under-achieving students.
Anon January 26, 2013 at 06:43 PM
I was thinking the same. Maybe even a full educational facility offering continuing education for teachers, after-school programs for kids, sports facility, arts facility. There is the space for all of this.
Anon January 26, 2013 at 06:43 PM
I was thinking the same. Maybe even a full educational facility offering continuing education for teachers, after-school programs for kids, sports facility, arts facility. There is the space for all of this.
GGMa January 26, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Why not use it as the new middle school instead of building the new one at the Castro site?

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