Report: Schools need $92 million in upgrades

Report: Schools need $92 million in upgrades

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s 17 public schools need $92 million worth of improvements, according to a long-awaited facilities report presented to the Board of Education on Monday night.

That amount doesn’t include the district’s pools, planned seismic upgrades to be conducted at Alameda High School or cost increases estimated by an architect who worked on the plan at $4 million to $5 million a year. Nor does it include Internet access or other technological upgrades.

“It is an overwhelming number. We will bring some logic to it,” Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell told the board, which met in the Alameda High School cafeteria on Monday. A second report prioritizing the district’s needs is due out in November.

The report lists a number of potential ways to cover the costs, including new school bonds, increased parcel taxes, philanthropic partnerships, state funding and shuttering schools. Voters approved a $63 million bond in 2004 that the district leveraged into $91 million for improvements with state funding and developer fees, and also approved a seven-year, $12 million a year parcel tax in 2011.

The report lists nearly $20 million worth of repairs needed at Alameda High School, not including a planned seismic upgrade intended to make it safe for students to enter and exit a seismically unsafe portion of the campus. Encinal High School needs $12.7 million worth of work, it says, and Lincoln and Wood middle schools, more than $7 million each. Six-year-old Ruby Bridges Elementary needs $736,944 in upgrades, the report says, while Washington Elementary needs more than $5 million and Woodstock Education Center, over $6 million. And that’s not counting additional issues as a dozen district facilities that need further investigation.

A team of architects and engineers visited the schools and interviewed staff in drafting the report, said an architect from Quattrocchi Kwok Architects, which conducted the facilities study.

The report recommends new boilers and fire sprinklers at the district’s schools, along with new windows and doors, better accessibility for the disabled, more energy efficient lighting and upgraded public address systems, telephones and clocks.

Proposed fixes at Alameda High included $1.3 million for new lockers at Alameda High and another $1.3 million to restore the front of Kofman Auditorium, while replacing the modular wings at Wood Middle School would cost an estimated $954,240 and demolishing modular at Woodstock Education Center and replacing them with permanent classrooms would cost an estimated $800,800.

Shemwell said the report would help the district plan to maintain its facilities properly instead of reacting when things break down. In addition to being forced to shut down its two high school pools, the district has in recent years traced a gas smell at what’s now the Academy of Alameda Middle School to a pipe with a big hole in it and had to make repairs at Encinal High when seawater eroded the school’s main electric trunk line.

“We deal with this every day,” Shemwell said.

Trustee Mike McMahon said that while the report provides a baseline for determining what fixes need to be made to keep the district’s schools operational over the coming decades, the board will need to decide whether it wants to keep all of its aging schools in place. The original portion of Alameda High was built in 1925 - eight years before the state law governing seismic safety at schools was even out into place - and many of the district's schools date back to the 1950s.

“We may end up with a $90 million price tag with a number of sites that look radically different if we do this a different way,” McMahon said. “It’s a conversation about whether spend $40 million to keep this building looking like a crown jewel of Alameda. I’d rather spend $40 million building new school sites.”

Trustee Niel Tam noted that the report doesn’t contemplate the cost of adapting Alameda’s schools to changing educational needs.

“We need to be mindful of what education will look like five years from now,” Tam said.

The report followed a more than two-hour discussion about plans to perform seismic work in and around Alameda High and a proposal to move the district’s offices from the school into a newly purchased building in Marina Village. District officials cast the proposed district office move as an effort to address the district’s most pressing safety issue without incurring long-term costs, though some members of the board and public wondered whether the district shouldn’t look more closely at less costly options.

Shemwell said he’d be recommending the district lease and then purchase a new office space in Marina Village for $5.3 million in order to accommodate its district office, which he said would need to move out of Alameda High before seismic work is done and would be unable to return. The architect working with the district said he’d “never seen a facility as structurally damaged in 25 years.”

An engineering study showed that the Alameda Adult School and portions of the building surrounding Kofman Auditorium could collapse in a major earthquake, prompting district leaders to move adult school classes out of the building, plan retrofit work to make it safe for students to enter and exit the building and begin searching for a new space for the district office.

McMahon and Tam said they supported the proposal to purchase a building, which Shemwell said might be sold at a profit at a future date. But Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer and Board President Margie Sherratt said they didn’t support buying a new building, with Herrera Spencer saying she wanted the district to spend the money on students instead and Sherratt saying district officials should look for other potential solutions.

“We need to still keep looking and keep figuring things out,” said Sherratt, who said she favors moving district staff out of the school. “So I’ll look forward to continued conversations on this.”

Chris Buckley of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society said he wants to make sure the buildings don’t fall into ruin. “It’s considered one of the architectural crown jewels of Alameda, so we’re concerned that its future is in good hands,” Buckley said.

But McMahon said that voters who approved the Measure C schools bond, which paid for retrofits to Kofman Auditorium and the classrooms above it, said no to another bond that would have paid for seismic upgrades to other portions of the campus. He said the district had planned to tear the buildings down but the community protested.

Shemwell said all the district’s adult school classes will be on the Woodstock Education Center campus next year, except for adult high school diploma programs that had been held during the day. The campus already houses Island High School, the Bay Area School of Enterprise and a preschool.

The district has just begun the bidding process for a contractor who will build a tunnel through the seismically suspect portion of Alameda High to protect students and staff during an earthquake, along with eight-foot-high fencing around the seismically unstable portions of the campus. Work is expected to take place over the summer and be complete by mid-October.

Extra: You can check out Donna Eyestone's video of Monday's meeting on our brand-new Ustream channel.

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Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Tue, Jun 5, 2012

Were these improvements prioritized so the school board, AUSD staff, and voters can see what improvements need to be made first, district-wide or campus-by-campus?

I don't think AUSD has the spare change to take on all these upgrades at once....

Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Tue, Jun 5, 2012

This Board of Education meeting was held in the aging Alameda High School cafeteria because City Council chambers were being used for another meeting. Meetings that get bumped out of Council chambers mean we get no live television coverage. For this meeting, we decided to try out doing a live web stream on our brand new UStream channel If you're a fan of following along with Michele's tweet-by-tweet coverage, The Alamedan on Ustream is an attempt to bring you live video coverage where none would normally exist.

The moral of our first broadcast-- Alameda High School needs some better facilities! There was no public Wi-fi, so I had to use my 4G iPhone connection to stream the meeting. This resulted in very sporadic quality -- bandwidth went from "stellar" to "no connection" for no apparent reason. Then there was the room. The huge, boomy cafeteria at AHS. The mics were not working, so it was hard to hear and I was sitting in the best spot in the place. Oh, and all the lights above where the main presenters sit had blown fluorescents.

If you watched, what do you think? Was it helpful? Is it worth sacrificed quality to have the live coverage? Would more consistent audio-only be better than occasionally cutting out video? The Board of Education video person taped the event and his higher-quality video will be available soon.

Submitted by Kristen Hanlon on Tue, Jun 5, 2012

I tuned into the Ustream about 20 minutes after the meeting started, and couldn't connect (all I got was a black box). Perhaps I should have tried again later?

In any case, I'm wondering why a brand new school (Ruby Bridges) needs $736,944 in upgrades already. That seems very odd to me. I hope the district prioritizes wisely.

I would love to hear an update on the unused properties (such as the old Island High, currently empty.) It seems the district could sell that property to fund the most urgently needed upgrades.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Jun 5, 2012

Hey KH: Looks like the big ticket item for Ruby Bridges is better lighting for pickup and dropoff areas, estimated at $320,000, with other fixes that include replacement of the school's buggy phone and bell/clock/speaker systems ($140k), stucco crack fixes ($37k). All of these estimates have soft costs budgeted in at 25 percent. I should probably also mention that to get to the individual school reports, you can click on the name of each school at the beginning of the 28-pager on the district's website and the link should take you to each school's info.

Submitted by Anne DeBardeleben on Tue, Jun 5, 2012

KH, I was also surprised to see the amount for RB so asked the CBO after last night;s presentation. Some of the recommendations have already been identified and are being addressed with the builder. However, as the work has not been approved and scheduled, the cost was included in the report.

I'm also curious about the old Island High site. In my mind, it clearly is not the solution for district offices, but revenues from a sale could be used to offset a purchase of a new site or used for some of the corrections noted in the report. This may not be the best time to sell, but in the long run it may be worth forgoing the differential of a higher sales price in the future to have access to these funds now.

Submitted by Kristen Hanlon on Wed, Jun 6, 2012

It's good to know that the builder is being held responsible for most of the repairs to Ruby Bridges.
I agree that now may not be the best time to sell off the old Alameda High site, but time is of the essence for some of the more serious repairs, so I hope they seriously consider selling now. I had no idea Washington School was in such bad shape, I hope that one is prioritized by the district.

Submitted by Bob on Wed, Jun 6, 2012

Both the AUSD District-Wide Facilities Report and Workshop on Office Facilities were presented at the Board of Education meeting Monday evening 6/4/12.

AHS phase one work is to include $19.5m for "egress mitigation" to historic AHS 2nd & 3rd floor classrooms (7 total). The work scheduled for July 2012 is to also include the East Wing (Adult School), as interpreted from Board materials.

However, when phase one is completed this summer the buildings will "not be habitable". Phase two work is to begin this summer after District Staff have vacanted the building - never to return. No phase two cost was presented Monday.

The District administration has been shopping for new office space with the help of local real estate agents. Inflated staffing space needs have been presented at 250-300 sf per employee. With an 85 person admin staff, AUSD is looking to lease/purchase a 22,000 sf building (1/2 acre).

Here is the kicker - Fall AHS AP Statistics classes only have five (5) vacancies with a lottery proposed to fill the class from the current waiting list. What are the priorities of the school administration?

Submitted by Anne DeBardeleben on Wed, Jun 6, 2012

Bob, The meeting on the 4th was a workshop and designed to provide information to the public. The next step is prioritizing the recommendation. No decisions have been made at this time.

It is estimated it would cost upwards of $50M to bring the Old Alameda High space to a useable space. The work recommended on the building is the minimal amount needed to prevent to reach a level of safety for anyone around the building when a major quake hits. The board has approved obtaining bids on the health and safety work around Old Alameda High which is anticipated to cost around $600k-$700k.

The office space under consideration represents the average per square foot industry standards and a 26% reduction from the current space being used. The 250 - 300 sf is not for office/cubicle space alone. It includes the needed space for walkways, restrooms conference rooms, equipment areas etc.

Monies for the recommendations explored on the 4th do not come from the general fund and by state Ed Code can only be used for facilities. Though the AP classes you refer to are important and need to be addressed, they are addressed under the general fund budget process.

Submitted by Bob on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

Thanks Anne,

Yes, the Monday 6/4 public information meeting had no agenda vote items with four Trustees attending.

If the AHS Seismic Mitigation Project phase one budget is $700k, the remaining balance of $18.8m must cover phase two work? Phase one work appears to be only the floor/wall and ceiling/wall anchors, as shown by Quattrocchi Kwok Architects. Phase two work on the egress routes from the classrooms is to follow after staff has vacated the building. The project scope appears to be to shore up the existing structure to prevent collapse and provide classroom egress, as required by CAC 4-310 (p34) and referenced in 1/9/12 correspondence from LPA Architects. However, upon completion of this $19.5m project the building is not habitable.

The office space lease/purchase figures including common areas cannot be verified without tenant improvement drawings as reference. I am encouraged to hear the leased space is a reduction from existing offices. I understand the current Superintendent’s 1200sf office exceeds the recommended 400sf private office recommended by the GSA for a University President.

Value-engineering is needed during the early stages of this $50m effort. If you look at the cost of egress mitigation for the (7) existing classrooms in the historic high school: $19.5m/6991sf = $280/sf.

Construction funds are to be allocated from Fund 40 Capital Facilities (current balance $3.6m). I agree staffing of important classes from the general fund budget should not be neglected, given parcel tax community support.

The City and School District appear to be playing political “hot potato” over the East Wing (Adult School). This district-owned building served as a temporary City Hall and is an historical resource, yet not usable to students. Without DSA approval this building is nothing but an expensive liability.

Submitted by Anne DeBardeleben on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

Hi Bob,

I see where the confusion is, the $19.5M you’re referring to is not recommendations for the Old Alameda High site currently used buy the district but the high school itself. There are no plans at this time to entertain retrofitting of the historic buildings, only to do the work necessary to prevent injury to anyone outside the fenced area if the building were to collapse during a major earthquake.

The 1,200 sq ft space currently utilized by the Superintendent reflects more than just her office space alone. It includes a reception area and supply area and was designed back in the 1920’s for what was likely the school office including a private principals office. Off hand I would be surprised if her private office space exceeds more than 400 sq ft, if it does, I doubt it’s by much. In any case, that just comes form having to utilize old space for purposes other than what it was designed for.

With regards to the East Wing, the District allowed the City to use the space for a period of time while some of their buildings were undergoing repairs. Unfortunately, the only space the City has available now is equally decrepit so they are unable to return the favor. All I know is the experts on Monday stated the condition of the buildings are extreme and the health and safety of employees are at risk. The pictures spoke a thousand words. We have some amazing, dedicated employees working in those buildings and putting any of them at risk is just not acceptable in my book.

Submitted by Bob on Fri, Jun 8, 2012

Thanks Anne,

I think we're in agreement about not risking health & safety (employees or public).

I obviously found the presentation confusing with key information missing. Perhaps I'm not alone?

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects should be advised to remove the photos of Historic AHS from their presentation (especially cover), since the photos are NOT related to the temporary wall bracing and shoring work.

The Field Act does not apply "to district-wide administrative buildings on sites separate from school sites", per 2010 California Administrative Code 4-310 (p34). However, verification of the $50m rehabilitation costs to Historic AHS will be key in the decision to move.

Submitted by Anne DeBardeleben on Fri, Jun 8, 2012

No problem, the report is definitely cumbersome and I'm still wrapping my brain around the information but that is a good point about the pictures.

My understanding is the interpretation of "student" under the Field Act was extended to adult school students creating the need to move the program form the East Wing. The district move is a result of the discovered condition when preparing the analysis -The expert stated the condition of Old Alameda High is among the worst he's seen on the entire state. This only adds to the confusion as the two moves are stemming from similar yet different circumstances.

I don't believe there's any plans in place to even explore rehabilitating the buildings at this time, As I understand it, the idea was explored years ago and they estimated around $50M for the work. As the district would have had to float a bond they put it to the voters and lost.