Schools leaders set to prepare facilities plan

Schools leaders set to prepare facilities plan

Michele Ellson

Schools leaders are getting ready to draft a long-term facilities plan for the first time in half a century – and also, to figure out how to pay for the schools the plan says Alameda will need.

The plan would address whether Alameda needs two comprehensive high schools, two middle schools and 10 elementary schools or whether a different lineup of schools would better suit the school district’s educational objectives and enrollment. It would also lay out the costs of different school facility options.

“We are at a critical point as a school district on the lifespan and usefulness of our facilities,” Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell told the Board of Education on Tuesday.

Gathering all of that information plus public input on what Alameda wants and needs is estimated to take 18 to 24 months, with meetings with the public and stakeholders expected to begin in March or April.

In addition to creating a “roadmap” detailing the school district’s facilities needs, administrators are urging the school board to place a bond measure on the ballot in 2014. Measure A, the district’s $12 million a year parcel tax, expires in 2016.

Bond measures put before voters in even-numbered years require only 55 percent of voters’ approval to pass, Superintendent Kirsten Vital said, while measures placed before voters in odd years require two-thirds support to pass.

Some matching funds could also be available from the state.

Schools leaders released a study in June showing that Alameda’s schools need $92 million for fixes - $73 million for needed work plus contingency costs. At that point, they said the next steps would be to determine what facilities are needed and how to pay for them.

“A lot of these schools were designed and built in the ‘40s and ‘50s. They really were designed and built for a different educational generation,” Shemwell said Tuesday.

Historic Alameda High School, which was built in 1925 and determined to have seismic safety issues a decade later, needs $20 million in fixes alone. District administrators sought to address that issue separately, because the fate of the school could play a role in determining where the district office will be located.

The district’s offices were moved out of Historic Alameda High over the holiday break into a 22,000-square-foot facility in Marina Village. The district is leasing the facility now, thought administrators have urged the board to approve a plan to purchase it.

They want the board to make a decision on purchasing the property in May, after conducting a trio of community meetings intended to determine the future of Historic Alameda High.

Jim Smallman, a representative of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, asked what would happen to the historic school if the district returns offices or classrooms there.

“It has to have a life in the community to survive as a structure. If it’s just an empty shell, that’s a losing proposition,” Smallman said.

Schools leaders approved long-range facilities plans in 1948 and 1963, along with a series of bonds to support construction of schools. But they haven’t created a similar plan since.

A separate plan to demolish and replace Historic Alameda High School was drafted in 1974, but the plan was never carried out; money from a 1989 school bond was used to retrofit the portion of the high school that contains Kofman Auditorium, but additional retrofit plans were defunded. Money from a school bond approved in 2003 has been used to maintain existing schools.