Historical Advisory Board gets update on Alameda High fence, retrofit work

Historical Advisory Board gets update on Alameda High fence, retrofit work

Michele Ellson
Historic Alameda High School

Updated at 11:27 a.m. Friday, September 7 to reflect postponement of this item to a future Historical Advisory Board agenda.

The city’s Historical Advisory Board has received a written update on seismic safety work at Historic Alameda High School outlining Alameda schools administrators’ rationale for shuttering and fencing off portions of the campus and also on the nature and cost of work being done there. A hearing on the report has been postponed to a later date.

An April 12 report offered by Quattrochi Kwok Architects that was presented to the school board in late April offers a list of earthquake safety measures the district opted to take to protect staff and students at the 88-year-old school, including relocating administrators working in campus buildings that aren’t seismically safe enough to meet state standards for housing students.

“Based on the structural analysis by ZFA (Structural Engineers), these non-(state) approved structures are not safe for occupancy and further pose a threat of collapse to people in the immediate vicinity,” the report says. “It is recommended that the temporary mitigation measures be taken to provide safe egress paths out of the fall zones as well as alternative paths for the adjacent Alameda High School students and staff.

“This should not be construed as a long term solution to the inadequacies of the unapproved structures,” the report adds. “It is understood that the District has a much larger challenge of what to do with the abandoned and fenced off structures.”

The report included ZFA Structural Engineering’s assessment of the campus’ seismic condition released in February and a pair of March cost estimates for seismic shoring work and the fence that’s been constructed around portions of the school. The estimates put the cost of the fence, moving a set of stairs, bracing and other work at between $515,752 and $663,268.

District officials later put the cost of the work at $887,000 with potential additional costs of up to $266,000; in response to questions from The Alamedan, Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell on August 23 said the amount includes $552,830 for structural upgrades, $16,500 to repair existing stairs at the school, $211,300 for the fence and $106,370 for a stair protection structure.

The district office will be moving to leased space in Marina Village with rent payments estimated at $552,000 a year and an option to purchase. Shemwell said administrators will most likely vacate Historic Alameda High in November and December, moving primarily during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

“We will most likely be keeping a department or two behind in the current Student Services section and the old Superintendent’s Office,” Shemwell wrote.

Much of the Central Avenue campus was constructed in 1924, nine years before a catastrophic Long Beach earthquake prompted lawmakers to legislate more stringent seismic safety requirements for schools. Plans for an extensive retrofit were drafted in 1935, according to the structural engineering study included in Quattrochi Kwok’s report, but most of them never came to fruition. Of the 1924-era buildings, only the central portion of the campus that houses Kofman Auditorium and the Larry Patton Gym behind it are considered safe enough to house students.

City leaders declared Alameda High an historic monument in 1977, along with the Alameda Theatre and City Hall. But the district isn’t subject to the city’s rules governing historic monuments or its zoning regulations or building code, and isn’t required to get planning or building permits from the city in order to perform construction work, a staff report to the commission submitted by Acting City Planner Andrew Thomas says.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places the same year, though the designation won’t prohibit the district from making alterations to the building or, if school district leaders decide, bringing out the wrecking ball.

A separate report commissioned by a local preservationist questioned district leaders’ decision to move administrators and the Alameda Adult School that had been housed at Historic Alameda High and to erect an eight-foot fence, and asked district leaders to reconsider. Representatives of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates said the solutions being proposed by Quattrochi Kwok and ZFA should significantly reduce the earthquake risk posed by the buildings and that a smaller fence would protect students.

“Completely abandoning the buildings and enclosing them with a tall industrial chain-link fence will only serve to make the buildings appear more unsafe than they actually are,” the Wiss, Janney report says.

The district’s architect dispute that though, and its engineers said that if the buildings are to be saved and reused, they’ll need “a timely and comprehensive retrofit.”

“Based on these buildings’ history of structural reports, numerous proposed retrofits and the noted deficiencies, we believe the district should make the seismic retrofit of these buildings a high priority,” ZFA Structural Engineers’ representatives wrote.

Related: School board signs off on lease deal

Alameda High School fence stirs debate


Submitted by Bob on Fri, Sep 7, 2012

Professional opinions on both sides are based upon visual inspections of the facility.

Phase two seismic reinforcing of the historic high school is required to make the facility Field Act compliant for student use. AUSD consultants have not been asked to conduct material testing, structural engineering design, or engineering calculations for phase two work.

The scope of this effort and cost has not been provided to the public, however the school district administration has proceeded nonetheless. AUSD has decided to install phase one reinforcing to prevent collapse (630 anchors) and then abandon the building.

Other school districts have done restoration work on historic buildings. Quattrochi Kwok’s website lists historic Napa High School as an example. Historic Oakland Technical High School was rebuilt in the 1970’s.

The Alameda Board of Education needs to provide leadership and vision. Playing to public fears without proper due diligence only fuels conspiracy theories. Alameda citizens deserve a school board that can listen to the community and respect Alameda’s heritage.

Submitted by Mike on Fri, Sep 7, 2012

I'm sure only highly paid structural engineers or a company in the seismic retrofit business would have the technical expertise necessary to design/construct such a special and expensive fence.

For instance, who would have guessed that a fence designed to contain rubble blast would have the chain link on the street side of the posts... thus relying on the fasteners and not the posts themselves to contain the pressure of the massive rubble blast that is sure to occur.

That god we paid enough to get such a great fence. A huge THANK YOU to everyone from the school board to the school administration that made this towering achievement possible. Did I mention how attractive it is?