ALAMEDA -- The Alameda Unified School District's administrative headquarters and its staff have migrated to a new leased site at 2060 Challenger Drive in Marina Village, leaving vacant office space in the historic Alameda High School building at 2200 Central Ave.

Now a question looms for the district: How will the community react to a staff proposal to buy the new facility for $6.3 million rather than rent if for six years for $3.2 million?

If the district buys the building, it must act by May to meet state regulations and complete financial arrangements. The recommendation to buy rather than rent is based on the district having an asset rather than six years of rent payments with no return. District business chief Robert Shemwell has projected the vacant Island High campus on Eagle Avenue could be sold for about $1 million to help pay for the new property.

A second question the district needs answered is what the community wants for the future of the offices deemed seismically unsafe in the historic building.

At Tuesday's school board meeting trustees pressed for developing a community outreach plan before making any decisions. The two issues are connected, they said, not only with each other, but also with the district's other plan for a long-range, multimillion upgrade for all schools. In addition, teachers are vying for a long-unsigned contract and urged the board to consider their lack of raises while their health insurance premiums skyrocket.

Money and emotion are enmeshed in every plan and proposal, and Alamedans have every reason to be involved, the board decided. There was considerable public criticism about the lease, citing overspending when money is needed for schools and teachers. Board members also agreed the future of the historical building is of interest to many people who should be involved in talks about it. The Alameda Architectural Preservation Society calls it "one of the best examples of Beaux Arts Classicism" in the Bay Area.

Shemwell noted that bringing the public in on talks is part of the staff's plan for a decision on buying or renting the new building and how to proceed with the older one. There are no specific costs projected yet for retrofitting the old offices, though Shemwell said in a previous meeting it would be expensive and even after it was done, more costs would be involved in lead paint and asbestos removal and other upgrades.

Still, he said at Tuesday's meeting, he doesn't take lightly people's feelings about the historical landmark.

Shemwell's presentation states the building's "shoring" is 90 percent complete. Kofman Auditorium and classrooms in the main section of the old campus have been retrofitted, as well the second and third floors. The east wing, where Adult Education classes were held, has not been retrofitted and those classes have been relocated to the Island High School campus at 1900 Third St.

Jim Smallman, a representative of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, told the board: "We'll be around."

The letter also requested definitive cost estimates for retrofitting and more details on what must be done. The society emailed a letter to the district requesting the society and the city's Historical Advisory Board should be included in all phases of the building's evaluation process.

Trustee Mike McMahon advised Shemwell to get some numbers for retrofit cost estimates There is more than one option for retrofit requirements depending on the use intended for the offices. If they were returned to student use, it would require the highest legal standards, which would be the most expensive to fulfill.

The items will be on the board's agenda again at its regular meeting on Jan. 29. To see board agendas and other information about board meetings, go to www.alameda.k12.ca.us/districtoffice and click the Board of Education tab.

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