Cost to retrofit high school buildings could top $27 million

Cost to retrofit high school buildings could top $27 million

Michele Ellson

Retrofitting seismically unsafe portions of Historic Alameda High School could cost between $19 million and $27 million, an architect’s estimates presented at a community meeting Thursday show.

But the architect and his team cautioned that the estimates aren’t based on a specific plan for retrofitting the buildings and they don’t include the cost of reconfiguring the space to fit modern schooling needs. They said “soft costs” like design work, testing and permits could add as much as 30 percent to the cost of any retrofit project the school district chooses to undertake, and that costs could go up over time – and if surprises are found as more information about the buildings becomes known.

Quattrochi Kwok Architects presented “order of magnitude” estimates showing the difference in cost for retrofitting the buildings to prevent a collapse, based on the state’s historic building code, to current safety codes and under the Field Act, which sets earthquake safety standards for schools. The estimates are as follows:

Collapse prevention: $20.2 million to $24.9 million

Historic building code: $18.8 million to $23.1 million

Basic life safety (current building code): $21.3 million to $26.4 million

Field Act standards: $21.9 million to $27.2 million

The estimates include retrofits for 75,000 square feet of space that includes the East Building, which until recently housed the Alameda Adult School; and the East and West wings flanking Kofman Auditorium. The center wing of Kofman has been retrofitted and is structurally sound, as are the campus’s West Wing and the new building on Encinal Avenue.

Fixing the buildings to collapse prevention standards would protect people inside them in an earthquake, while historic building code standards would have the district designing fixes to 75 percent of the current building code’s force, according to a presentation offered by Jeff Cambra, who has been facilitating community meetings to discuss the historic high school’s fate.

The buildings could only be used by students again if they are retrofitted to Field Act standards, which would require the buildings to capable of withstanding 15 percent more force in an earthquake than buildings that meet the state’s building code, Cambra said. District offices could be returned to the historic campus, but unless the building they’re housed in is Field Act compliant, students and teachers wouldn’t be allowed inside, he said.

Mark Quattrochi of Quattrochi Kwok Architects said any retrofit could take a year to design and another six months to gain state approval; construction could take up to 16 months.

One number that wasn’t presented Thursday: The cost of building a new high school, an option some participants in the community meetings advocated for. Quattrochi said new school construction typically costs between $400 and $500 a square foot.

The state has recently begun releasing funds from a $200 million pool set aside for seismic retrofits, and the school district could be reimbursed for half of eligible costs of a retrofit project, said Chris Warner of ZFA Structural Engineers. The state school bond program also has some remaining modernization funds that could pay 60 percent of eligible costs of a project that either modernizes or replaces an existing school, Alameda Unified’s chief business officer, Robert Shemwell, said.

Several people who attended Thursday’s meeting said they’d like to see the building fixed up for students to use again, with some noting the limited cost differences between the different retrofit options.

“It occurs to me that, looking at the various options here, there’s little difference between the Field Act standard and the minimum,” Jim Smallman of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society said.

An Alameda High School student said 80 percent of the students who completed an online survey she set up said they want the buildings restored for classroom use and that there was a “huge resistance” to the buildings being torn down.

“It’s a huge part of history and probably the nicest looking thing on our campus,” she said.

She said Alameda High needs a host of repairs, which include better lighting, heating and cooling; lockers and bathrooms; replacement of science labs that are “out of date.”

Abra Rudisill of the Alameda Ballet Academy asked whether Kofman Auditorium would see upgrades if other buildings are renovated. She said the theater doesn’t have what is needed to school children in the performing arts.

“I really hope that would be part of the big picture,” Rudisill said.

One person who attended Thursday’s meeting asked whether the school district could sell the buildings to a developer, though the district would need to go through a formal surplus process in order to sell or lease out the property – and charter schools, government, nonprofit and other groups would have the opportunity to buy it before it could be offered to private entities. And unless it is restored to Field Act standards, the fence that surrounds much of the old campus would have to remain in place.

John Selbach questioned whether the school district could tear the buildings down and erect a state-of-the-art campus for all of Alameda’s high school students to attend, but others said they think the existing buildings could accommodate one. One person who was speaking for an Alameda High alumni group said restoring the buildings for student use could help the school district address its space crunch by providing space for charter or other schools.

A final community meeting is scheduled for May 21, and at that meeting, stakeholders will discuss what they agree on and what they don’t. The Board of Education will receive a report on the meetings a week later, but they are not slated to make a decision about the fate of the historic buildings on that date.