Residents offer ideas for old school buildings

Residents offer ideas for old school buildings

Michele Ellson

Low-income housing, a museum, and new classroom space are among the future uses Alameda residents envision for Historic Alameda High School. But most of the people who offered their thoughts on what should become of the school on Monday agreed that the campus should remain standing.

The meeting was the second in a series being held to gather the public’s thoughts on what should become of the 88-year-old campus, much of which isn’t seismically sound enough to hold students and is vacant as a result. An additional meeting intended to gather the community’s “wish list” for the campus will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Alameda High School cafeteria.

Several of the stakeholders who attended Monday’s meeting – a group that included local preservationists, Alameda High School alumni, a local political group and teachers – said they’d like to see the historic campus restored and returned to use as an educational facility, while others offered alternative views.

“I heard from the rest of the teachers (who are not at Alameda High) that the most upsetting thing is having it be vacant, and having a fence around it that makes it look vacant. Obviously, they would like it used for an educational purpose,” Alameda Education Association president Gray Harris said.

Ed Kofman, whose grandfather, Alameda Times-Star publisher Abe Kofman, had worked to save the school, said he’d like to see the buildings rehabilitated and reused as a high school or district office, though he suggested the school district consider selling one of the buildings to finance rehabilitation of the others if it can’t find the money to fix up everything that isn’t earthquake safe.

“Perhaps if one building couldn’t be rehabilitated, a developer might be interested in keeping the shell of the building for an alternative use, and the school district could divest themselves of that,” Kofman said. “Maybe it’s a bargain sale, maybe they get the developer to build a new swim center. Some kind of creative solution that night be a win-win for everybody.”

The handful of residents who spoke out Monday had different visions for the future of Historic Alameda High, though most said the buildings should be saved. They said people feel a close connection with Historic Alameda High and that Alameda’s historic buildings provide the Island with its unique identity.

Marilyn Schumacher said she thinks the buildings could be repurposed, possibly as a mixed-use housing and commercial development. She thinks the school district could consider building a new facility for all of Alameda’s high school students. Enrollment in Alameda and Encinal high schools was just shy of 3,000 students in 2011-2012, figures on the Ed-Data website show.

“Because of all our demographics that have changed, we do not need two high schools in town. With one, we could completely get rid of the educational imbalance between east and west,” Schumacher said.

Alameda High School senior Rebecca Dosa said she would like to see students return to the historic buildings; her mother, Lisa, who cofounded a Facebook page for alumni, said in a survey that they’d like to see it restored for students.

“We don’t have to choose between education and history. They’re not exclusive,” Rebecca Dosa said.

Alameda High School science department chair Michael Carlson said the teachers in his department could use some new and improved classrooms. He said the school’s existing science labs are equipped with six, four-person lab stations – and are being used in classes with 30 to 35 students each. The department’s remaining rooms are a regular classroom and a converted typing room, Carlson said.

“Our current science classrooms are overcrowded and simply inadequate,” he said. “The Board of Education mandated two years of lab science to graduate from high school, so we’re going to need more laboratory classrooms.”

Alice Lai-Bitker, a former Alameda County supervisor and one of a pair of mediation specialists facilitating the community outreach meetings, offered a string of suggestions she’s received from members of the public that included tearing the buildings down, turning them into low-income housing, or creating a museum. Residents offered a host of educational uses as well, a list that included a Mandarin immersion program, arts school, environmental sciences program and schooling for at-risk youth.

But some of the roughly three-dozen people who attended Monday’s meeting said they’d like more information about the space needs of the district and its students, along with the cost of all the options being put on the table – and also, where the money to pay for them will come from.

“It’s really important to start thinking about, ‘How will this be paid for?’” Alameda Association of Realtors president-elect Anne DeBardeleben said. “I think it would be really helpful to add that into the discussion because it helps us define what we can do, versus what we want to do.”

Related: Historic Alameda High School: A timeline

Schools leaders seeking input on Historic Alameda High

Video: Historic Alameda High School engagement meeting