Alameda Unified's new district office: An inside look

Alameda Unified's new district office: An inside look

Michele Ellson

Contributed photos.

The 26,720-square-foot building at 2060 Challenger Drive once served as light manufacturing space for firms that provided assembly line, communication and security equipment. But at the beginning of the year the building became a new home for the Alameda Unified School District’s administrative offices, its open spaces and hard, concrete floors replaced by a thin tile carpet and neat rows of cubicles ringed by conference rooms.

“None of this was in place in November,” Alameda Unified’s chief business officer, Robert Shemwell, said as he gave The Alamedan a tour of the new offices earlier this month. “It was very industrial-looking before.”

The district’s offices were moved out of Historic Alameda High School during the first week of January and into the Challenger Drive space, a move that was prompted by fears that portions of the 88-year-old buildings could collapse in a major earthquake. But the move prompted a reaction from the leaders of two school employee unions and from parents, preservationists and some school board members who have questioned whether the building was as unsafe as advertised and whether the money could have been spent on improving facilities that house students and teachers.

Members of the Board of Education said in November they weren’t ready to purchase the building, a move schools administrators were set to recommend. A second chance to buy the building is open through the end of September, and administrators have said they need to know by May whether the board will approve the purchase.

The decision will likely be informed by schools leaders’ efforts to address the district’s future facilities needs, and in particular, their decision about the fate of Historic Alameda High.

Buying the office building would cost $5.9 million, according to a recent presentation; the district now holds a six-year lease on the building, which it is renting for $552,000 a year, with an option to extend the lease another six years.

The new space houses 85 administrative workers, many of them nestled in cubicles Shemwell said he bought at a deep discount from a firm that was vacating one of the spaces the district looked at on Bay Farm Island. At Historic Alameda High, classrooms were repurposed as offices for dozens of workers, who parked at meters or in the Civic Center Parking Garage.

“You worked wherever you could in there,” Shemwell said. “Predominantly everyone was in an old classroom.”

In addition to office space, the building comes with 95 parking spaces, he said.

The cubicles are decorated with school art and ringed by conference rooms of varying sizes that a staffer christened with Alameda names. One room contains the district’s curriculum, which Shemwell said must be made available for the public to view, while others are used for teleconferencing, student testing and teacher training.

Different administrative departments have their own zones in the building, with the district’s human resources department and enrollment offices accessed via separate entrances. Food service and maintenance staffers have their own quiet spaces in the rear of the building, while the district’s textbook cages occupy a spare room containing some of the last vestiges of its former life as light manufacturing space.

Very little if anything in the building was bought new, Shemwell said; the district’s biggest expense in moving, he said, was technology, though the server racks in use at the new office were there when the district moved in. The district is redesigning its Internet and telecommunications networks, with the Internet hub being moved to the new office.

Under the district’s lease with building owner Legacy Partners I, Legacy will pay up to $800,000 in improvement costs. The school board has signed off on additional expenses that included about $83,000 in setup and moving costs and another $170,000 for data and power improvements.

In addition to the tour, district officials provided photos that offer a firsthand peek inside their new offices. The photos can be viewed in the slideshow at the top of the piece.

Related: School board signs lease deal


Submitted by Mark Irons on Tue, Feb 19, 2013

I see the district supplied the photos. accommodations look pretty modest, but many are probably curious about some of the offices too.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Feb 19, 2013

Hey Mark - Thanks for your comment. We were actually set to take photos on the tour but had an equipment malfunction (our camera died), so the district supplied these. I did see a few of the offices. What do you want to know about them?

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Tue, Feb 19, 2013

It appears that the space is larger than needed for the AUSD offices, based on the photos AUSD provided. How does the rate that AUSD is paying compare to typical office leasing rates and to its other options within AUSD facilities?

I, too, would like to see more photos--especially ones not provided by AUSD--in the interests of objective and fair reporting. More details of the offices and other spaces would help...

I would feel better about AUSD moving to this new office if our teachers were getting a better deal from the district, although the AEA seems to be about as uncooperative as the AUSD management in blocking a negotiated solution....

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Feb 19, 2013

Hey Jon: Thanks for reminding me to let people know that they can also check out the new district office by calling the maintenance, operations and facilities folks and scheduling a tour. And as far as these pix go - we did a full tour of the offices and these pictures do pretty fairly reflect what's there, save getting into people's personal workspaces. I should probably reiterate that the district did let us in with a camera but it died before we could take any pictures, so the district was good enough to provide some. So I apologize that we don't have in-house photos with today's piece.

The lease rates I'll check into - that's a good question - and as far as the other options go, I think the district folks' position was that they didn't have space in other existing buildings, Island High lacked the space and parking they needed and Alameda Point also had earthquake issues (I think they looked at City Hall West, if I remember correctly).