Residents: Fix old Alameda High buildings for students

Residents: Fix old Alameda High buildings for students

Michele Ellson

Residents who participated in a meeting Thursday aimed at gathering input on the fate of Historic Alameda High School said they want the 88-year-old campus saved and reopened to students.

“It hasn’t been stated, but these buildings are in jeopardy of being torn down, and I don’t want to see that happen,” said Ed Kofman, whose grandfather’s name graces the school’s auditorium.

Alameda High School teacher Fred Chacon said teachers at the school want it renovated and modernized for student use; a representative for the teachers union said he, too, would like to see the school saved.

“I believe this is a very special building, one that gives Alameda a very special character that would be a pity to lose,” Chacon said. “We would like to work for seeing this become not only a high school, but a community building that could be used for all kinds of things.”

Thursday’s meeting was the first of four being run by a pair of facilitators the district hired to collect public input on the school’s future. Much of the old campus is considered unsafe for student use because it doesn’t meet state seismic safety standards, was vacated by students in the late 1970s and by the Alameda Adult School and school district offices over the course of the last year.

New facilities were built along Encinal Avenue in the 1970s and schools leaders had sought to tear down the old campus, until Alameda voters installed a school board majority that favored keeping the buildings. Seismic upgrade plans were built into schools bonds in 1989 and 2004, but a retrofit of Kofman Auditorium was the only one that was completed.

Schools officials have hired an architectural firm to estimate the cost of protecting the buildings from collapse, of bringing them up to current building code standards and of retrofitting and upgrading them for student use. District officials will pay Quattrochi Kwok Architects $15,500 to produce the estimates, which could be ready within 10 days, district officials and representatives of the firm said Thursday.

Seismic safety standards for schools are more stringent than those for other types of buildings, Mark Quattrochi said, though he said building code standards are growing closer to those for schools, which could have an impact on the cost estimates. He said state building codes in the works for historic structures could also help bring potential renovation costs down.

A similar renovation at Napa High School, which was redone in 2003 following an earthquake, cost $12.2 million, Quattrochi said. He said the school, which is 60,000 square feet – smaller than Historic Alameda High –was built around the same time as the historic Alameda campus and had some of the same issues.

He said there are limits on how buildings on the campus could be used. Since they were on a school campus the district offices, he said, were supposed to be retrofitted to state standards for schools.

Quattrochi said the school could be fixed up and used for students again, despite its age.

“It’s been suggested that Historic Alameda High School, irrespective of the Field Act, is not an appropriate facility for a 21st century education. As a retired schoolteacher, I don’t see that,” said Jim Smallman, who’s on the board of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, which wants the buildings saved.

Some of the stakeholders present at Thursday’s meeting said they hadn’t formed an opinion about the old school’s fate and that they were there to listen and learn. Mayor Marie Gilmore, who said she wasn’t speaking for the City Council, said she believed the city would be “agnostic” about the fate of the campus and that it wouldn’t have the money to buy or retrofit the buildings.

“Our main interest is that the buildings not be allowed to become a blight on our downtown,” Gilmore said.

Representatives of the Alameda Association of Realtors said they, too, were there to listen and learn. School board members attended the meeting but opted not to be part of the formal process, mediator Jeff Cambra said.

But several of the roughly 50 people who turned out Thursday said they want the buildings saved, and that they think schools leaders should do more to get people involved in the discussion. Janet Gibson, a former school board member and retired teacher, said she and others who are part of the Alameda Citizens Task Force, a citizen group, would mobilize residents who want the buildings saved.

One meeting participant, John Jacobs, suggested schools leaders explore the possibility of tearing the buildings down, while another, Betsy Matheson, said residents need to know the buildings’ future is at stake.

I think the word ‘demolition’ will get people here. I don’t think John Jacobs’ question was rhetorical. I know it’s out there,” said Matheson, who noted that the city’s rules don’t apply to school buildings and that the buildings’ historic status doesn’t protect them from demolition. “We’re talking about losing the buildings.”

Cambra and former Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, who is also helping lead the meetings, will hold a pair aimed at gathering the community’s “wish list” for the old campus at 6 p.m. Monday and 1 p.m. Saturday, April 20 in the Alameda High School cafeteria. A fourth meeting aimed at forging a consensus is scheduled for May 9.

Cambra and Lai-Bitker are also accepting questions and comments via e-mail, at and

Related: Historic Alameda High School: A timeline


Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Fri, Apr 12, 2013

Just for reference, here's a link to the renovation project done by Quattrocchi Kwok at Napa High School

Submitted by kevis on Sun, Apr 14, 2013

AHS Alumni and former AHS teachers are invited to join a Facebook alumni group at . AHS Alumni will be a stakeholder group at the community meetings. The AHS Alumni stakeholder reps are currently getting input on the views of alumni through the Facebook page.