School board members want to hold off on buying building

School board members want to hold off on buying building

Michele Ellson

Video streaming by Ustream

Video recorded by Donna Eyestone.

School board members won’t be signing off on a proposal to purchase an office building leased to house 85 district office employees – at least not at the end of this year, as district staff was set to recommend.

Four members of the current board and a fifth who will join the board on December 11 said Tuesday they think they need to engage the community more about the decision and about the district’s facilities needs as a whole before deciding to move forward with a plan to buy the building.

“I have thought long and hard about where to go with this, and I think it is a broader decision at this moment for me than to simply purchase or not to purchase,” board president Margie Sherratt said. “At this moment I’m not prepared to vote for a purchase.”

Trustee Mike McMahon said he thinks the district should buy the building, though he’s willing to entertain other options.

“From a fiscal point of view, it’s a no brainer. We purchase it,” McMahon said. “If the community wants to come up with a solution that says we can put 80 employees somewhere else, I’m fine with that. I’m not tied to that solution. But I have not seen a workable solution that solves that issue.”

The district is set to pay about $3.3 million in rent over a six-year lease – and more, if the district exercises the six-year extension option in the lease. Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said that purchasing the building before the end of the year would cost the district $5.9 million, an amount that would include financing costs, and would give the district an asset it wouldn’t gain by renting.

If the school board votes to purchase the building between January 1 and September 30, 2013, Shemwell said the price would increase to $6.3 million. If the board does not choose to purchase the building during that time frame, it will continue leasing the building.

The cost to buy the building would be between $589,000 and $594,000 a year over 10 years; the district’s rent on the building is about $552,000 a year. Shemwell said the district could sell the old Island High School site on Eagle Avenue for an estimated $1 million to defray the cost of the purchase.

“We would have difficulty replicating a $5.9 million district office. We’d probably spend double that if we built from the ground up,” Shemwell said.

He said the district could leverage state funding to fix Historic Alameda High for use as a school.

“To bring it back to life as an educational asset for the school district is a good way to go for us,” Shemwell said.

The board was not scheduled to vote on the purchase on Tuesday, but Superintendent Kirsten Vital said district staff needed direction on what their next steps should be.

Both Sherratt and Trustee Niel Tam said they wanted to hold off on purchasing the building to gather more community input on the proposed purchase, with Sherratt suggesting the district create a task force to examine all of the district’s needs and the property it owns and could potentially sell. Incoming board member Barbara Kahn said purchasing the building could anger voters the board will likely be asking for bond money to pay for new and improved school facilities.

Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer reiterated her opposition to the move to new district offices and questioned whether they could be subleased to someone else, prompting questions from outgoing board member Ron Mooney as to whether a minority of the board opposed moving district office workers out of Historic Alameda High School. But Spencer and other board members said they don’t envision workers moving back into the building.

Spencer said she thinks district staff should talk to other architects about the possibility of moving back into the building and consider other options for housing district staff; she said she wants to see the district’s facilities money to be spent on schools.

District staffers had looked at the old Island High site and other facilities, including City Hall West, but said they found them inadequate to meet the district’s needs. Shemwell, who said the district hired the best architects in the state to examine Historic Alameda High, said Tuesday that the district had also looked at putting portables at Wood Middle School or the old Island site to house administrators, but that paying for portables would cost $3 million.

“And imagine putting $3 million into portables that will depreciate as soon as you put them on the ground,” Shemwell said.

District staffers haven’t yet moved out of Historic Alameda High, which is undergoing retrofit work aimed at protecting students attending classes in its vicinity and passers-by if there’s an earthquake. A consultant hired by the school district determined portions of the 87-year-old campus could collapse in a major quake on the Hayward fault. McMahon said he wants to see staffers out of the building by January.

Separately, a board subcommittee that includes Mooney and Spencer will meet this morning to discuss a host of possible changes to the board’s policies. Any changes that are recommended to the policies would be considered by the full board.


Al Wright's picture
Submitted by Al Wright on Wed, Nov 14, 2012

I have (at least) two thoughts on this:

1. $3 million for portables on the old Island Hi site is half the cost of purchasing this Marina Village building. It saves $3 million for some of those $92 million school rehab costs we've heard of. So what if they depreciate the moment you set them down? When you buy office furniture, as soon as you take it out of the show room it depreciates. You pay the superintendent's salary for a year, and what do you have to show for it? Nothing. You have to pay her again the next year. Mike, to me, this is a 'no-brainer'. In these economic times, spend as little as you must to keep the District staff safe, and spend what you save on improving education for our kids. (or making the buildings our kids learn in safer and more habitable).

2. In this article, Mr. McMahon says there are 80 employees working at District offices. On the vid of the meeting I watched last night, someone (perhaps it was Mr. Shemwell?) asked, if you moved the staff to portables on the Wood school site, where would you park the 90 cars? Waitaminnet. 90 cars? For 80 employees? Which is correxct?

By the way, The Alamedan, thanks for the video feed last night. It was clear and the sound was good-much better than past attempts from that location.

skahn's picture
Submitted by skahn on Wed, Nov 14, 2012

Last time I checked there are schools in Alameda with virtually no parking. Chipman (now AOA and Nea lower village) have 3-4 spots. I believe Lum and Haight have a hand full. Don't think Edison or Maya Lin has any. Parking has now moved up in priority 2nd to the DO needs? Still waiting to hear about what the kids and those who work with with all day need.

Submitted by Ed Hirshberg on Wed, Nov 14, 2012

The school district should not fool themselves into believeing they are buying an asset that will appreciate in value. Building owners take depreciation for a reason. Buildings have a lifespan and they inexorably lose value through deferred maintanence and functional obsolesence. Consider the old Alameda High School building. It was probably designed by one of the top architects of the day and engineered by a great engineer. Upon completion the district thought they had a great asset. At this point in time, the district would probably be happy to only have a lease on the building, that they could walk away from at it's termination. Buildings cannot always be sold for a profit, or at all. In this recession many owners have walked away from class A buildings that they could neither sell nor lease. Ownership carries a very real risk that leasing does not.

Submitted by alamedamom on Thu, Nov 15, 2012

Did anyone listen to the Board meeting? The CSEA union leader, basically said to let the employees stay in the existing building, and let them suffer. Wow! What a great leader standing behind her members that work in this condemned building.

I am an Alameda mom, my kids attend these schools, and I work in this unsafe building. Moving to our new facility is just a safety issue for me. We will lose half of our space. And unlike past comments, these are not posh offices, but rather a bunch of cubicles.

We support all schools with our services. There is no other reasonable solution keeping all district staff in one location, that would ensure continued and adequate support. Piece-mealing the offices and scattering staff all around Alameda, would slow down systems and procedures substantially. And yes, with today's technology that should not be an issue, but who will let the district invest in today's technology? The same bickering and whining over money and the state of the schools will start again.

I am tired of hearing about other options, because nobody has come up with a solution. Meanwhile I fear every day, if that is the day the building will collapse.

Purchase or not, I don't care, but let us move out. I do care about my children and the families of the 80+ employees that are anxious about being in this condemned building.

Submitted by A_Lame_Dan on Mon, Nov 19, 2012

Didn't the school District just last year have the east wing surrounded while lengthy work was under way on the windows? What was spent on that project, and why was it spent, if the building was just going to be mothballed for the foreseeable future?