ALAMEDA -- A recommendation that the Alameda Unified School District buy the Marina Village office space it's leasing for $5.9 million hit a wall of resistance at a special school board meeting Tuesday.

The school board members discussed options to buy the property that the district is leasing for six years at a cost of $3.2 million. The district signed the lease in July.

There are two options: either sign a contract by Dec. 31, or, for an additional $425,000, sign by Sept. 30. The reason to buy rather than rent the property, said district business chief Robert Shemwell, is to retain it as a future capital asset rather than as a six-year expenditure without returns.

He said the vacant Island High School campus could be sold for an estimated $1 million to help pay for the new property. Shemwell said interest rates may change and advised signing a contract earlier rather than later.

The old Alameda High School buildings in the 2200 block of Central Avenue, which are housing the administrative offices and the adult school, have been declared seismically unsafe.

"Even when we complete the seismic retrofitting to save the building, it will probably never be habitable for district employees without great expense," he stated in a written presentation. Removing asbestos, lead paint and other upgrades would be costly, he said.


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Kofman Auditorium and classrooms in the main section of the old campus have been retrofitted. Board member Margie Sherratt, who had voted against the lease, said, "The community had lots of questions (on the lease). We need to involve the community on decisions about historic Alameda High School. This is too much too soon."

Sherratt confirmed with Shemwell that the money for the leased property comes only from the district's facilities fund. Newly re-elected trustee Trish Spencer, who also voted against the lease, said, "These monies can also be spent to repair school sites, right?"

"I toured the site and became nauseous seeing the lush offices for the administration and thinking of where our students go every day," she said. "We have students in facilities from the mid-1900s. In July, we were asked to move urgently so as not to lose the site. Maybe we should look into subletting to get us out of this fiscal crisis."

She asked where the district would come up with the $92 million needed to repair schools.

"We should accommodate students first," she said, and recommended finding other sites for the staff.

Critics have said the district could have saved money by moving staff to the closed Island campus and other sites. Shemwell said placing portables at Wood would cost $2 million to $3 million, reduce space in the athletic fields and cause traffic congestion.

The other options would also cost money, Shemwell said.

Board member Mike McMahon said, "We need to move 85 employees out of that (old) building. We have looked at City Hall west, Wood and Island schools. What did we miss over nine months of looking at sites? We need to delay a purchase decision, and if we solve this in the next six months, fine, but I want workers moved by January."

Trustees Niel Tam and Ron Mooney agreed. Incoming board member Barbara Kahn said that after the public agitation over the lease, the community would never get on board with a purchase.

The issue will be discussed again at a regularly scheduled meeting.

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