Michele Ellson
I shot this from my bicycle.

Alameda’s Board of Education has approved a controversial lease deal for new district office space at Marina Village, on a 3-2 vote.

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 space for between $5.1 million and $5.5 million.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital told few dozen people who attended the meeting in the Alameda High School cafeteria despite the fact that the meeting was held on a Friday night in the middle of summer break – in the middle of two board members’ vacations – that staff presented the deal to the board after obtaining an engineer’s report showing the district’s current offices at Historic Alameda High School wouldn’t be safe in an earthquake. And she said the decision was coming after a lengthy process that involved a thorough search and 10 months’ worth of meetings.

“If there was another solution, I would recommend it. There isn’t,” Vital said.

But teachers and preservationists questioned whether the money should have been spent on facilities that directly serve the district’s students, especially in light of a report that detailed $92 million in fixes the district’ schools need. And they accused district officials of abandoning the 87-year-old school without conducting enough due diligence on the building’s condition, especially in light of a conflicting report from an architecture firm hired by the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society to take another look.

“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 Hererra Spencer, who reportedly complained about the deal on her 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 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,” Hererra 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 too angry about the lease deal to vote for it.

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 shaff had been diligent in researching options for the move.

“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.”

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.

District officials said they started looking for new digs after a structural engineer’s report said their offices at Historic Alameda High wouldn’t be safe in an earthquake. They are beginning seismic shoring work at the school 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.

We’ll have a fuller story on the deal and what happened at Friday’s meeting on Monday, so stay tuned.


Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Sun, Jul 29, 2012

Thank you Trish and Margie for being reasonable and forward thinking in your decision to vote agianst this office space fiasco! As a high school teacher in the district, I have been working the past year without new materials for my students, in a building with peeling paint. The Alameda schools have been making-do, not thriving, but surviving during this economic decline and drop in public school funding. Nevertheless, we graduated an amazing group of students in June and plan to do the same in 2013.

I would like to see the list of options the school board considered before deciding to pay over half a million dollars a year for offices in Marina Village. How have they stream-lined district operations to be more efficient and cost-effective? Why don't they set up offices in the many empty classrooms that we have in the distirct?

With school board elections coming in November, I suggest that Alameda voters get rid of the board members who supported this misappropriation of funds (Ron Mooney and Niel Tam). The cost of these comfy offices will have a negative effect on the quality of education in Alameda.

Forgive me if this