Alameda High School fence stirs debate

Alameda High School fence stirs debate

Michele Ellson
Historic Alameda High School

Dennis Laine drove past Historic Alameda High School this morning, and he was shocked by what he saw: An eight-foot tall fence being erected around portions of the old school.

“This fence is more than a simple chain link fence. The posts that are now in the ground are more suitable for a PRISON and that is exactly what Alameda High is going to look like!” Laine wrote The Alamedan on Thursday. “This construction needs to be stopped NOW before it is to late to do anything about it. The fence project needs to be redesigned.”

The Board of Education voted unanimously in June to erect the fence to protect students and passers-by from debris that an engineering firm that studied Historic Alameda High said could fall from the buildings in the event of a catastrophic earthquake. The decision-making process drew handfuls of residents to the board meetings where the fence was discussed. But the fence’s construction has become the talk of the town, with some residents saying they see it as an “eyesore” and questioning whether it will actually offer protection in an earthquake.

“I would think that in the event of a major earthquake, a fence isn't going to do much to help out,” Michelle Marie Stibbs wrote on The Alamedan’s Facebook page. “What about all the kids inside when all this 'pancaking' is going on? Also, it would seem to me that putting a fence there would actually create a secluded area for high schoolers to group and hang out, thus creating more people in the 'danger' zone.”

The fence has attracted the attention of Alameda residents just as district leaders are getting ready to talk about what to do with the district’s aging schools and how - or whether - they will pay for $92 million in fixes a recent facilities study says they will need. Alameda High School alone needs nearly $20 million worth of upgrades, the study says.

School leaders tried unsuccessfully to get voters to approve bond funding to retrofit the old high school in the 1970s, and the bond money they did secure in 2004 was only enough to retrofit the central portion of the 87-year-old campus, which contains Kofman Auditorium and some classes. District administrators moved adult school students out of their Central Avenue digs earlier this year over seismic safety concerns, and Historic Alameda High will be largely vacant when administrators move into their new offices in October.

While many have expressed their anger over the fence and its impact on the look of the campus, others questioned preservationists’ goals in seeking the buildings’ restoration.

“I think people have forgotten that when those who wanted the old buildings preserved were made aware that the space being preserved could not be used for students (not earthquake/Field Act safe) they did not care,” Kate Quick wrote on The Alamedan’s Facebook page. “Preservation of the buildings, even if there was no money to make the space usable for the kids was the goal. There were also no plans for ‘re-repurposing’ the space.”

But at least one school board member sees the public outcry over the fence as an opportunity to better engage residents in the upcoming discussion about the district’s facilities. School board Trustee Trish Spencer, who told her dais-mates she expected a strong public reaction to the fence once it was erected, said she’s been approached by several residents about the fence and also the future of Alameda’s school facilities.

“You put up a fence, that will engage the community,” Spencer said. “At least it’s starting the conversation. We have a problem there. How are we going to deal with it?”


Submitted by severeclear on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

This has to be the stupidest rationale for erecting an eyesore fence ever. More likely another crooked city politician throwing some contracting money to a pal. What, (heaven forbid!) if some lamebrain stumbles into Central Avenue during an earthquake into the path of traffic? The same anti-logic used for the Alameda High fence would suggest a similar fence had better be erected between the sidewalk and the street to protect people who might oherwise be injured. Duh.

Submitted by Mike on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

When deciding what to spend money on, is it absolutely impossible to for this School Board to use the simple decision-making guideline of "Is it a learning priority?" Once again, the School Board majority chooses to waste money on a non-essential. I feel like an idiot for having voted for that parcel tax, only to find that it goes to administrator raises, fancy new offices and eyesore fences. To be fair, I have no idea what this fence cost or where the money came from, but it probably cost a lot and ultimately came from taxpayers.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

Hi Mike - The entire seismic safety project, which includes caging entrances and exits at HAHS, the fence and I believe some shoring work, is $887,000 (plus $266k for project administration). Let me see if I can find out what fund it came from and I'll dig up the staff report with the cost estimates and post in a bit.

Update: Looks like the money is coming from the district's capital projects outlay fund. Can't seem to find the March or April board packets when this was discussed on the district's website, if anyone can guide me to those, much obliged.

Submitted by Bob on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

Hi Michele - Please find below BOE Agenda Special Meeting 6-4-12 (page 34 of 87):

•Funding would come primarily from Fund 40 “Special
Reserve Fund for Capital Outlay Projects”

•Funding can only be used for “Capital Facilities Projects”

•Current balance in Fund 40: $3,620,955

•Annual generation rate is approximately $400,000

Please post the 6-25-12 letter of findings coauthored by a structural engineer at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Assoc (WJE) recommending the buildings to remain occupied.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

Thanks Bob! WJE letter is posted.

Al Wright's picture
Submitted by Al Wright on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

Michele - What does the city of Alameda have to say about a building owned by the school district that will be abandoned and stand vacant for the foreseeable future, surrounded by a fence on steroids, and located in the heart of it's civic center?

If/when the property is considered blight, can the city of Alameda force the school district to mitigate that blight?

Does the school district intend to keep up maintenance on the property? Keep up the landscaping, painting, abating graffiti, keeping lights on for security and to protect against vandalism?

Is this property on the list of historic monuments? If so, what does that mean? I'm aware that homeowners that own historic homes are restricted in what renovations they can make to their homes; does the same hold true for public buildings that are deemed historic?

What does the $887k plus $266k buy? Does that make the buildings safe for adults to use, or safe for kids to use, or just emergency repairs to keep them from falling down and to build the fences and temporary covers over the entrances to the other safe buildings?

Submitted by knealy on Sat, Aug 18, 2012

The fence is horrible. It's got to go. I was shocked to see it. Couldn't the school board anticipate this reaction? If they really put up this prison fence just to get our attention then they are clueless at best.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Sun, Aug 19, 2012

Hi Al: I can answer the last two questions. The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places, which could entitle the district to apply for some funding, but that as I understand it is the long and short of it (eg, the district could still theoretically knock the buildings down if they chose). And as to what the money buys, they will be doing some temporary seismic retrofitting, caging entrances to the earthquake-safe portions of the building and putting up the fence. I will have to ask the city what if any thoughts they have on all of this.

Submitted by Bob on Mon, Aug 20, 2012

The $1.15m phase one Historic AHS seismic work underway includes both temporary and permanent items.

The entrance cages, west wing bracing, and perimeter fence are temporary. In a 6/25/12 letter, WJE recommended that the floor/wall and ceiling/wall anchors be designed as permanent to facilitate future seismic reinforcing. WJE also stated the anchors “address the most severe seismic deficiency of the structures” and substantially reduce the hazard, thereby allowing the buildings to remain occupied. AUSD has ignored this professional engineering opinion and voted 3-2 to move to Marina Village and abandon the historic high school.

Future seismic reinforcing is needed to make the historic buildings Field Act compliant for student use. However, AUSD has not directed consultants to complete the design and estimate costs of seismic retrofit work. Phase one work is based upon visual inspections by consultants, without benefit of material testing and exploratory structural analysis. The scope and cost of phase two work remains unknown.

Long-term facility planning decisions are being made with incomplete information. In my opinion, the Board of Education has a public responsibility for due diligence and service to citizens of Alameda that recognizes Alameda’s heritage.

Submitted by Richard A. (not verified) on Mon, Feb 24, 2014

This is far worse than the "racial" fiasco at Washington School. Idiots.