Vision for school facilities unveiled

Vision for school facilities unveiled

Michele Ellson
Alameda High School

A few dozen parents, preservationists and school staffers turned out Monday to offer their thoughts on proposed upgrades that could once again put students into Historic Alameda High School and replace dozens of portable classrooms, improve drop-off areas and boost security at schools across the Island.

The unveiling of proposed site plans detailing potential upgrades for Alameda’s schools Monday – the product of dozens of meetings at individual school sites – was the latest step in a more than two-year process to address existing and future facilities needs. The school board is expected to approve a facilities plan in May and to prioritize the upgrades and fixes it includes; a bond proposal could be okayed in June for a November ballot.

A 2012 assessment of the district’s existing facilities identified $92 million in needed fixes, though upgrades called for in a master plan – which could include bigger and more flexible classroom spaces at all the district’s schools and school-specific upgrades like a theater at Encinal High School and a gym at Lincoln Middle School – will likely add to that cost. Architect Mark Quattrochi, whose firm has been managing the planning process, said Monday that cost estimates for all the fixes are in the works.

What the (school) board has to grapple with is, what do we want to do with our first funding opportunity,” Quattrochi said.

Quattrochi and his team offered two separate visions for Alameda High School, both of which would put more students in upgraded classrooms on the original campus. One option would create a cluster of science classrooms in the original campus space, leaving some of the other space for the district or other groups, while another would put additional classrooms and students on the historic campus.

Both visions include upgrades to Kofman Auditorium and a safer, more unified outdoor space for students that would include outdoor eating areas and a new student union.

“Think of it as Starbucks,” Quattrochi said.

The architects also offered potential upgrades for Thompson Field, to a full-sized stadium.

Encinal High School could see its undersized classrooms brought up to modern standards, and students there could also get a long-sought theater of their own. Encinal student performers now stage their shows in the gym.

Lincoln Middle School could be in line for a new gymnasium, while a draft plan for Amelia Earhart Elementary shows a soccer field and a track.

Common fixes proposed across many school sites included security upgrades like fencing and more accessible school offices, improved drop-off zones and school parking, flexible classroom spaces and infrastructure that better supports technology. The plans also put permanent classroom buildings in place of aging portables.

The proposed upgrades were spread across three categories – critical needs, upgrades that would support new educational needs and items that are desired but not needed immediately. The school board will be tasked with deciding which needs from those categories should be placed before voters first.

Two potentially hot-button topics not addressed by the site plans: Where to put the district office when the lease on its current space runs out, and whether to consolidate Alameda’s two high schools. Quattrochi said a new high school to house 3,000 students could cost $180 million.

“It’s going to take a lot of improvement costs (for existing high schools) before it pencils out,” he said.

Participants at the sparsely attended meeting in Alameda High School’s cafeteria questioned the plans’ focus on security and car access. They lobbied for more garden acreage, theater space for youth groups and safer bicycle and pedestrian access to schools.

“Parking doesn’t improve our educational experience,” one speaker said. “Please prioritize what will touch the children. It’s what will sell to the community.”

Betsy Mathieson asked schools leaders not to replace green space with parking or student drop-off zones.

“We definitely need to encourage our kids to walk to school or bike to school,” Mathieson said.

Other participants at Monday’s meeting said they don’t want to see schools turned into “prisons” surrounded by tall fences.

Lori Garrett said the site plans should make more space for gardens on campus. Garrett said the program she runs at Bay Farm School is no longer allowed to use the school’s small kitchen and has to run a cord inside for electricity; she ferries dishes used to prepare and serve the food grown in the garden to her home to wash them.

Page Barnes said the youth theater group whose board she serves on, Alameda Children’s Musical Theater, had to cancel a pair of shows because the group couldn’t find a stage to perform on. Amy Marie Haven of Tomorrow Youthrep, a second youth theater program seeking space, echoed Barnes’ concerns.

“I know a lot of these schools,” Haven said. “I hear, you can’t do this after school program. We don’t have the space for you.”

Anyone interested in offering their thoughts on the proposed site plans can attend a second public meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Encinal High School. A third meeting where the feedback from the earlier meetings will be discussed is scheduled for April 30 at Donald D. Lum Elementary School.

Additional information on the planning effort, including the site plans, is available on the school district’s website.