District will keep Alameda, Encinal high schools
District will keep Alameda, Encinal high schools
The school district is keeping Alameda and Encinal high schools open, instead of building a single, new school to house all of the two schools’ students.
The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to focus its efforts – and Measure I bond money – on fixing up its existing high schools, rather that embarking on a quest for the money and property that they’d need to find in order to make the dream of new, single high school a reality.
“With the $90 million we have, we are going to get two very nice campuses,” school board trustee Gary Lym said.
Some community members have advocated for a single high school, saying that building one could address historic inequities between Alameda’s two comprehensive high schools and erase divisions between the east and west ends of the Island. Proponents also said students deserve a state of the art school.
But Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said it would cost the district up to $275 million to build a new high school – money the district doesn’t have and won’t be able to request from voters for another eight to 10 years. The district also doesn’t have a location that’s big enough for a new school.
“If you gave me a check for $300 million, I would build it for you,” McPhetridge said. “But we don’t have the money, we don’t have the time, (and) we don’t have the space.”
Designing and building a new school would take another eight years, for a total of 16 to 18 years – long after even today’s kindergartners will graduate from Alameda schools.
Schools leaders included $90 million for high schools in the Measure I bond, which voters approved in November. But they held off on deciding how to spend the money in order to talk to the community about whether Alameda should retain its existing high schools or create a single new one.
The district held community meetings in January and February to discuss the future of high schools here and conducted an online poll. The vast majority of people who participated in the meetings and the poll said they’d like to keep the Island’s two high schools open.
Alameda High educates 1,746 students on a 12.9-acre site, while Encinal High serves 1,052 students on 21.9 acres. School board members have set aside $44 million to renovate Alameda High and $39.5 million for Encinal High.
Projects the district expects to perform at Alameda High include structurally upgrading and modernizing Historic Alameda High School, creating new science labs, upgrading the school’s outdoor areas, modernizing Larry Patton Gym – and removing the safety fence lining the perimeter of the historic high school campus.
At Encinal High, the district plans to build a new, two-story classroom wing and reconfigure its existing classroom wings; renovate its science classrooms; upgrade its locker rooms and improve its outdoor areas.
Board member Philip Hu said he thinks the money can help the district transform schools to make them more desirable.
“Clearly a lot of the passions run deep,” Hu said. “But I think a lot of things change as we start to change schools.”
McPhetridge said he thinks the equity issues raised by community members can be addressed without a new school.
“We have work to do on both sites. But I think we can address these equity issues more economically at two sites,” he said.
Separately, board president Barbara Kahn asked her dais-mates to consider changing the order the district performs schools upgrades and fixes to be paid for with bond money. As it stands now, the district will perform all of the work planned for its elementary schools before moving on to the high schools.
The board agreed to ask district staff to offer recommendations on the order work should be performed at schools, which could mean some high school projects are performed sooner than now planned.
“We can bring back a hybrid plan if the board tells us to do it,” McPhetridge said.
The heads of two of the district’s unions and a parent at one school said they’d like the district’s top priority for bond projects to be safety, following a vandalism incident on February 13 at Bay Farm School and a trespassing incident Monday at Edison Elementary School.
Police reportedly arrested a 27-year-old Vallejo man on Monday after he allegedly trespassed on the Edison campus and attempted to rob two employees and pull one of the employees off campus. Police said the man appeared agitated and disoriented and that they believe he was on drugs; schools officials said they placed the campus on lockdown.
Alameda Education Association president Audrey Hyman said many Edison school staffers were shaken up by Monday’s incident. She wants the district to make school safety and security its bond funding top priority.
“We need to do something to protect our employees, and to make them feel assured that we are not taking for granted what is happening at their sites,” Hyman said.
McPhetridge said the district intends to address school security concerns.
“Sadly, the world is changing,” he said Tuesday. “To keep our students safe, we need to be like other modern schools and put fences around our campuses to keep out unwanted intruders.”