Alameda High Reopened

Dennis Evanosky    Bella Puchkova, Alameda High School Class of ‘20, leads a tour through the newly refurbished school.

Last Thursday, Aug. 8, the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) held a ceremony celebrating the re-opening of the 100,000-square-foot Historic Alameda High School (HAHS), 2200 Central Ave., which is a registered Historical Landmark. The architects of the school’s restoration provided some historic background on the Island City’s most significant piece of school architecture and the project to restore it. 

Built in 1924, the Neoclassical-style Central Building contains two wings of classrooms and the Kofman Auditorium building. The Science Building at Central Avenue and Oak Street, also designed as a Neoclassical structure, was added in 1934. The “West Wing” building at Central Avenue and Walnut Street was built in in 1957.

Concerns about earthquake safety at HAHS date back to 1935, shortly after the state passed the Field Act, which mandated that school facilities be able to resist an earthquake. AUSD considered and then abandoned plans to either shore up or demolish the buildings repeatedly over the next four decades, and in 1978 much of the high school was moved to a new, safer building on Encinal Avenue. HAHS was subsequently used by the Alameda Adult School, the Alameda Free Library, and AUSD’s district office. But after a 2012 report found that the complex could collapse in the event of a major earthquake, the buildings were shuttered and fenced off. 

The following year, the Board of Education conducted a series of meetings to gather community input on possible options for HAHS. Jeff Cambra and Alice Lai-Bitker, both community leaders and mediation specialists, managed the community engagement process. The final report noted stakeholder “interest in seeing the buildings rehabilitated and returned to school use.” 

Following the creation of a district-wide Facility Master Plan in 2014, voters approved the $179.5 million Measure I facilities bond, which prioritized renovating both HAHS and Encinal High School (along with providing crucial upgrades to all other schools). Work began on HAHS in 2017.
The buildings will provide staff and students with 37 regular classrooms, 11 science labs, administrative offices, upgraded and accessible bathrooms, a faculty lounge, and a half dozen meeting rooms of various sizes. 

The project cost about $60 million. $44 million of the funds came from the Measure I bond. The rest came from state matching grants for seismic improvements, AUSD’s deferred maintenance fund and Proposition 39 allocations for energy efficiency improvements.

Between 40 and 160 skilled laborers worked on the site per day, including carpenters, steel workers, electricians, plumbers, window restoration specialists, bronze metal workers, terrazzo restorers, painters, concrete specialists and others. More than 600 workers were involved in the project altogether.

A good portion of the work focused on seismic retrofits. The 2012 report had found the buildings were at significant risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake, due to the sandy, liquefiable soil on the site and structural issues with the buildings including weak concrete and poor structural connections. To stabilize or “densify” the soil, engineers injected grout in 6,000 drilled holes under and around the buildings. This took 1,200 cubic yards of the grout – enough to fill a classroom that is 34 feet tall, according to the builders. They also drilled helical piles, which look like corkscrews, 30 feet into the ground to anchor the structure to more stable soil.

To shore up the buildings, workers took off the roof and used a crane to place steel braces along the walls on all three floors; each of these braces, in turn, was bolted to new concrete foundations. These created a “building within a building” that will be able to better resist a strong earthquake. 

Steel piers now supplement many of the original concrete columns in the building. Those columns had begun to crumble from age, making them even weaker than when they were constructed. Expansion joints were positioned between the buildings so that they can independently move with the force of an earthquake without crashing into each other. 

About 350 historic wood windows were renovated, along with 6,000 panes of glass. As per an agreement with the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, the original wooden sills and sashes were also preserved. Laborers also repaired the columns, terrazzo stairs and bronze and copper detailing outside the building.

The entire building was painted to match the original colors. Crews also installed new landscaping, including: drought-tolerant plants, a line of trees to match others on Central Avenue and a bioswale to help absorb storm water runoff.

Interior work
The front lobby of the central building has been completely restored. After removing many interior walls and some floors, workers built classrooms that meet current size requirements. They both preserve the original trim and cabinetry and provide up-to-date technology, acoustic panels and furniture. This project required its own millwork department, which repaired and restored the original trim and built custom trim. The 11 new science classrooms include space for both teaching and laboratory work. 

Skylights on the third floor corridors have been restored. The buildings also benefit from upgraded electrical, mechanical and fire sprinkler systems and accessibility.

Kofman updates
Kofman Auditorium likely won’t open until sometime in 2020. After nearly three years of disuse, officials want to ensure the theater rigging, lights, heating system, fire alarms and sprinklers are working properly first.

Time capsules installed in front of the theater were dug up, cleaned and replaced. The plaques for each year’s graduating class were also restored; a signage specialist to recreated the font on plaques that had been damaged. Space has been set aside for future time capsules and plaques.

According to the contractors, between 1,200 and 1,500 donuts were purchased for meetings held during the project. 

Encinal Jr. & Sr. High School
Work continues on Encinal Jr. & Sr. High School. The $42 million project will include: 

  • A new two-story, 12-classroom building with a maker space
  • A complete redesign of the area in front of the school (including a relocation of the parking lot, removal of the old portables, and new landscaping)
  • A new central student gathering area 
  • Outdoor learning spaces 
  • Modernization of the 200 wing (the primary front building), including new walls, windows, ceilings, restrooms and floors  
  • Upgrades to critical infrastructure and security systems including fire alarms, PA system and door locks. 

The project is expected to be completed in two to three years.