FULL STORY: School board signs off on lease deal
Alameda’s Board of Education on Friday approved a controversial lease deal for new district office on a 3-2 vote, the latest in a string of efforts to address seismic safety concerns that have loomed at Historic Alameda High School for decades.
The district will pay $552,000 a year for six years to lease a 26,720-square-foot space at 2060 Challenger Drive from Legacy Partners I Alameda LLC with an option to purchase the Marina Village space for between $5.1 million and $5.5 million by September 30, 2013. The lease contains a six-year extension option.
Superintendent Kirsten Vital, who read from a prepared statement similar to one that had been published in local newspapers and e-mailed to 500 people who get updates from the district, said district officials moved to find new space after receiving a structural engineer’s report that said portions of the buildings they inhabit would be unsafe in a major earthquake. Vital said district officials sought to lease office space after examining and rejecting other options that included finding district-owned space to house administrators.
“Given the very serious safety issues involved and the opportunities for public input, tonight is the appropriate time for the board to take action on the proposed lease,” Vital said. “We need to get the employees out of this building without further delay.”
In her op-ed, Vital said district officials will work with community members to decide how to move forward “and make best possible use of the historic school.”
But speakers questioned whether the district did enough due diligence to truly assess whether the building is hazardous, citing a conflicting engineer’s report commissioned by the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society that said the district should reconsider the move. And they questioned whether administrators shouldn’t take up residence in available spaces across the district, making do in a tough situation as they said administrators have repeatedly asked teachers and students to do.
“I’m wondering about space at Washington or Longfellow – there’s a variety of spaces,” Alameda High School teacher Allison Goldberg said. “They might not be as nice. But we endure plenty of not nice conditions.”
School board Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer, who reportedly complained about the deal on her personal Facebook page earlier this week and who voted against the lease deal with Board President Margie Sherratt, questioned whether moving the district offices was a safety issue and said she didn’t think the district should commit the funds to new district offices when students in other schools lack proper bathrooms.
“Our mission is not to ensure that staff has new, modern offices at the expense of student classrooms,” Herrera Spencer said.
She said she thinks the district will be seeking a bond to pay for the schools’ facility needs and that the public will be so angry about the lease deal they won’t vote for it.
Sherratt said that while she understood administrators’ need to be moved to safer quarters, she had been hopeful for a compromise that would have seen them renting a smaller, less expensive space and supplementing with district-owned property.
But trustees Neal Tam and Ron Mooney, who, with Mike McMahon, voted for the deal, said the public had ample opportunity to weigh in on it, and that district staff had been diligent in researching options for the move. And they said they thought it made more sense to keep all of the district’s administrators together.
“In February when we got the newest report that says there’s a possibility, a probability of collapse in a major earthquake, that for me changed the scenario,” Mooney said. “It’s about safety.”
Speakers who attended Friday’s meeting also chided district officials for making such an important decision on a Friday night in the middle of the summer, during a month that the school board traditionally doesn’t meet. But Sherratt said the meeting was held Friday in order to accommodate two board members’ vacations, while Vital and others said district officials had talked about the move and leasing proposal at eight different board meetings before Friday’s.
The deal appears likely to become a political issue as the seats of three board members – Mooney, Tam and Hererra Spencer – are up for grabs in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested election.
Alameda Education Association President Gray Harris, who spoke out against the lease deal, told the board the teachers union will be actively involved in the upcoming board election. She said the union will interview all the candidates before deciding who to endorse and campaign for.
“Teachers will be running a campaign for school board because we really want a local school board that puts students first,” Harris said.
Vital called the district office move “phase one” of a two-phase plan to address $92 million in upgrades a recently released facilities report says are needed at Alameda’s public schools, including nearly $20 million for fixes at Alameda High. The board is slated to begin talking about how they’ll prioritize those fixes – and how they’ll pay for them – in the fall.
As part of that review, the district’s structural engineer found seismic issues at two other schools – Encinal High School and the former Washington Elementary School (now Maya Lin) – though in a separate interview, Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said neither appears to present a safety issue.
Separately, the district has begun $887,000 in seismic shoring work at Alameda High that will include “caging” entrances and exits in the campus’s central building and posting an eight-foot-high fence around the perimeter of the campus in order to shield students in the old campus’s retrofitted central building from debris that could fall off its unretrofitted East Wing and old science building during a big earthquake.
Seismic safety has been a recurring issue at Alameda High since the early 1930s, historical documents show, when the state’s Division of Architecture looked at the school’s main academic building, constructed in 1925, and determined it wouldn’t be safe in a “strong earthquake.” At that time schools officials okayed a contract to shore up the school’s gym and part of the auditorium, but they left the classrooms and the rest of the auditorium as-is, a 1978 letter from the Office of the State Architect to then-Superintendent Clarence Kline showed.
One of the state’s structural engineers declared the entire main building unsafe in 1967, the letter says, adding that the building “was never totally repaired in accordance with the provisions of the Field Act,” which governs the seismic safety of schools.
The West Wing of the campus, which was rehabilitated in 1954, is Field Act compliant, district officials have said and documents show; additional facilities were built with state funds obtained in 1974 and students were moved into the new facilities in 1978.
School and community leaders in the 1970s tried and failed at several attempts to convince voters to okay bonds for new facilities or for retrofits to the Historic Alameda High campus, which includes the East Wing that until recently housed the Alameda Adult School, along with the school’s former science building and the central building that houses Kofman Auditorium. But in 2004 voters approved Measure C, which allowed the district to make $83 million in facilities upgrades.
Money from the measure was supposed to be used to retrofit Historic Alameda High, but rising construction estimates put the plan out of reach, and school board members opted to retrofit just part of the campus, meeting summaries posted on board Trustee Mike McMahon’s website show.
Some district offices are in the retrofitted central building, which includes Kofman Auditorium and classrooms, while others are in parts of the campus that haven’t been retrofitted. A staff report on the lease deal said the district won’t be able to use its existing Historic Alameda High offices while shoring work at the campus is underway or after it is completed.
The lease is expected to commence on October 1, lease documents show, though it wasn’t clear when administrators plan to move. District officials didn’t offer the estimated cost of utilities or the cost to furnish the new offices on Friday. Legacy will make up to $828,320 in improvements to the space before moving the district offices in, unsigned lease documents show, and the district would be responsible for any costs above that amount.