The Explainer: School facilities master plans

The Explainer: School facilities master plans

Michele Ellson

Tonight, the school board will be getting information about what goes into a facilities master plan, along with a timeline for developing such a plan and how that might fit into an effort to put a schools bond on the November 2014 ballot.

Fifteen months ago, district staffers rolled out a facilities assessment that they billed as a precursor to a master plan. That document offered a laundry list of upgrades and fixes needed at each of Alameda Unified’s existing schools – $92 million worth when all is said and done, from new windows and doors to accessibility upgrades and more energy efficient lighting, new boilers and upgraded fire sprinklers.

After some initial discussions about a long-range plan, the board and top district staff opted to focus first on the future of Historic Alameda High School and by extension, the district office, hiring a pair of mediators to host a series of community meetings this past spring to discuss the 88-year-old facility’s fate. Now the board is again discussing the possibility of a master plan, along with the first of what could be several bonds needed to fund upgrades to existing schools and possibly, new facilities; schools trustees have offered a range of opinions about what they think should be done, from creating a community-based planning process to focusing on immediate space needs to compiling a full plan with the aid of experts.

So what is a facilities master plan, and how is it created?

In short, a facilities master plan outlines a long-range vision for a community’s educational needs, detailing the programs that will be provided and the facilities that will be needed to support those programs. The plan spells out how much those facilities will cost and where the money to fund upgrades and new construction will come from. It also takes a look at a school district’s existing and anticipated enrollment.

Under state law, school districts must maintain a long-range facilities plan in order to be eligible for state school construction funds. In 2009, the school board adopted a policy directing the superintendent or a designee to develop such a plan.

Goals and priorities are set by the school board, with input from a planner charged with managing the process and from a committee that can include administrators, teachers, school staff and community members, according to a presentation from the California Department of Education’s website.

For example, Oakland Unified’s 2012 master plan, which was drafted by facilities staff, education planning experts and community members, covers capital projects for the district for the next five to 10 years that are to be funded primarily with bond money; it outlines $1.5 billion facilities needs (the bond and additional money the district secured would cover about a third of that amount). Oakland’s facilities plan lists a half dozen overarching school board priorities, which include safety; sustainability; and creating spaces for innovative learning models like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schooling.

Oakland’s plan dovetails with a strategic vision the district drafted; one goal, to modernize and upgrade the district’s facilities, encompasses plans to reduce the number of portables the district uses, upgrade grounds and building systems, build a central kitchen and renovate existing kitchens at 17 school sites and install solar panels and other energy efficiency upgrades at schools. The district is also seeking to make better use of its facilities as its student population has declined.

The plan also lists projects that have recently been completed with the aid of an existing 2006 bond.

Meanwhile, a 2012 facilities plan designed for the Sanger Unified School District, which serves more than 10,000 students in the Central Valley, is broken down into a “trifecta” of components: needs of existing and for new facilities, the costs of addressing those needs and priorities establishing what needs to be done when and also, when money to do the work is required.

The plan details close to $383 million in needed school and district facilities upgrades and new schools to be built to accommodate a projected increase in the district’s student population of 3,100 students over the decade the plan covers – a list that includes improved teaching spaces, building code fixes, basic maintenance and upgrades that meet broader school district goals. It calls on district staff to prioritize some $99 million to $124.5 million in improvements – depending on the size of a bond they might put in front of voters – and on the school district’s governing board to consider approval of the list.

Alameda’s schools leaders approved long-range facilities plans in 1948 and 1963, but the district hasn’t created one since, district leaders have said. As part of its earlier strategic visioning process, the district in 2010 updated a 2002 facilities plan.

That plan, which was tied to the Measure C bond, outlined maintenance needs at existing facilities; the plan district administrators have said they’d like to draft would be far more ambitious, offering a holistic vision for the future of schooling on the Island that talks about how many schools Alameda needs, where they should be and how they will be outfitted to meet modern educational needs.

District staff has said it would take up to 18 months to create a master plan, though tonight, a team from Quattrochi Kwok Architects – the firm that drafted the 2012 facilities assessment – will talk about whether a full plan could be assembled sooner. The district got 16 responses to a December 2012 request for qualifications to firms interested in handling the project; district officials have said it could cost $300,000 to create the plan, a dollar amount some board members have balked at.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. today in the Alameda High School cafeteria, 2201 Encinal Avenue (the entrance is on Central Avenue near Walnut Street).