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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Center Of Community Life Now Costs Only $65 Million

First It Cost $120 Million, Now It's Only $65 Million:
School District's Center Of Community Life Shifting Goalpost

News Analysis
New and vexing economic tribulations at the Emeryville School District is forging a new counter-intuitive meme, forwarded by officials, that would have citizens believe that it's cheaper to tear down the existing high school and build a whole new campus and community center there than it is to simply renovate Emeryville's schools.

Emeryville's assessed property valuation has markedly lowered in the last couple of years owing to the dismal state of the economy and that has drastically lowered the bonding capacity for the schools/community center building project known as the Emeryville Center of Community Life.  Undaunted, school district officials have moved forward, determined to build ECCL anyway, virtually unaffected by the bleak new economic reality.  This reality disconnect revealed itself at an October 19th Citizens Oversight Committee meeting when the School District reversed earlier predictions about the project's costs, inexplicably making it now cheaper to build the entire schools/community center project than to renovate the existing school buildings to minimum code compliance.

Slide from the July 2010 meeting 
showing the $68 million cost to do 
code compliance only minimum 
renovation of the existing schools. 
At a July 2010 City/Schools Committee meeting, District architect Roy Miller told the decision maker attendees, made up of the city council and school board members, that the most minimal possible school renovations would cost a lot: $68 million.  As an alternate, Mr Miller said the School District could generate $95 million from the sale of Measure J school bonds (subsequently OKed by Emeryville voters in November 2010) and instead tear down the high school facility and build an entire new school, K-12 combining the elementary school, middle school and high school with a community center called the Center of Community Life for $95 million plus $25 million kicked in from the City of Emeryville's coffers for a total of $120 million.

After that pivotal July 2010 meeting, when the City/Schools Committee voted to move forward with the ECCL project and after the voters OKed the sale of the Measure J bonds in November of 2010, the worsening economy lowered Emeryville's bond saleability from $95 million to $40 million.
So $40 million plus the $25 million from the city totals $65 million.  The new fiscal realities presents the School District with the awkward scenario of explaining how a simple renovation of the three existing buildings could cost more than the total tear down and building of an entirely new suite of campus buildings; their preferred option.

Artist's rendering of the Center of Community Life:
Now officials say it can be built for only $65 million.
Unfazed by the slashing of bond money available for the project, the School District officials now say it can move forward with a smaller version of the ECCL project at $65 million.  The smaller version however still involves abandoning the existing Anna Yates Elementary School and co-locating it on the ECCL site on San Pablo Avenue.  Also unaffected by the reduced funds, School District officials say, is the building of the new community center.

District officials did not specify at the October 19th Citizens Oversight Committee meeting how the Center of Community Life is to be built at half the cost of previous estimates.


  1. Brian, You are doing good work. Although Measure J passed, with very low voter turnout, most taxpayers in Emeryville are totally unaware. Given the facts, I think those constituants would scratch their heads, and question the motives of well meaning, but with no sense of practicality, public servants that are not gambling with their own chips.
    While they continue to collect compensation, they have nothing to lose. We, the Tax Payers, are getting screwed!

  2. they really need to stop thinking of abandoning Anna Yates Elementary so soon after rehabbing it!!

  3. What are the supposed advantages of re-locating the elementary school? And how much was spent on rehabbing it?

  4. Ditto to Anonymous. Anybody want to volunteer for a campaign to save Anna Yate?

  5. To Michael Webber-
    I hereby volunteer! Anybody else?

  6. FYI- $9 million was spent recently on the Anna Yates remodel.

  7. Correction: the $68 million was to bring all three District-owned properties into code compliance. However, the point to take from this is: In July 2010 the voters were presented with a slate of options, one of which was $68 million for "code compliance only". This obviously looked like a lousy choice. If mere code compliance was going to cost so much, then why not spring for a whole new school + community-serving stuff for $95 million? That was the false dilemma presented to voters and they bought it. The choice that was NOT presented in that screenshot you use was a $65 million dollar ECCL which they now believe they can build to house around 800 students. If people had been presented with that option over a year ago, maybe everyone's tax bill would be $30 million dollars cheaper.

  8. How about a poll of the parents, school staff and students?

  9. Note to readers-
    The 6:49 commenter is correct. Originally the story reported that the school renovation would entail Emery High School only. The story has been revised to include renovations for the three schools in Emeryville.
    Thanks for the correction.

  10. Actually, the 6:49 commenter got one thing wrong. Our tax bills would be $55 million cheaper (not $30m) if we had been told that a $65 million ECCL was possible, because the total was supposed to be $120m with a school portion of $95m and now that school portion (in the foreseeable future) is just $40m. I certainly would have preferred a $40m bond measure if that's all we really need. Where are the cost estimates?

  11. The best thing to do is leave Anna Yates alone. Leave Ralph Hawley alone, until we decide to move back into it. And rebuild Emery High. That school does need to be razed. It just does not have the infrastructure to support a modern high school.
    We can't put more than 4 computers into a class room, or circuits start to blow. Last year he had a major meltdown because the server room overheated (I use the term 'room' lightly).
    I've had things catch on fire in there because we were overloading circuits. We can't add another phone line without a ~$30,000 improvement to access to the building. We've stuffed all the conduits coming into the building to capacity. We are cramming people 3 and 4 deep in offices.
    And every time you turn around, they want to put in more and more technology and expand the capabilities of the school through technology.

    The facilities just aren't there for a modern school. How long are you going to keep nursing along a 50 year old building?

    I'm glad I'm leaving and going to work in a community that cares about providing their children with modern facilities for learning.

  12. To commenter at 8:19-
    The electrical argument is fallacious: it's easy to upgrade electrical into existing structures, even bringing in more capacity from the street. How do I know this? 30 years in the industry.
    Re: old school buildings: my high school, Boulder High, was built in 1936 and it stands there still, churning out college bound seniors at a prodigious percentage rate...a rate much higher than Emery. It's not new buildings that cause children to's small class size and quality teachers (& involved parents of course).

  13. To the commenter at 8:14-
    One point no one has glommed onto so far is the credibility of the $68 million dollar renovation cost claim. I'm in the industry and I don't think this number is credible, I think it's way too high. It might have been derived from a no-bid contract from Turner Construction, the builders of ECCL (and a major contributor to Measure J). Watch for a future Tattler story on the no-bid contract from Turner.

  14. Well, good for boulder.. A few things to consider as this is not an apples to apples comparison.
    Boulder is in a mostly brick building. Emery has 1/16" sheet metal outside walls, with concrete corners. You can imagine how wonderful it is to keep this building heated, I'm sitting in my office shivering right now because I forgot a jacket today.
    Emery is near sea water, good at speeding up corrosion of our sheet metal walls. (Really, whose brilliant idea was that?) In fact, you should look at the wall for room 11, in particular. Got a lot of little rusting holes in it.
    And yes, it would be easy to upgrade capacity to the site, no argument there. However, getting that capacity in the every classroom, not so easy anymore, not cheap, either.

    See, if Emery were constructed like Boulder High was, in a similar location, I would be in agreement with you. But that's just not the case. This school doesn't even have a good shell to start with. And the environmental factors are completely different.
    Just seems foolish not take advantage of advances in construction technology, earthquake safety, and energy saving of the past 40 years.

    Maybe it would be a different story if the school had a decent budget, and was better at managing it, but the voters of the town and the political players in Emeryville have shown the only way its going to happen is by a pet project.
    Also need to look at people like Marty Procaccio, uncredentialed counselor, and getting $115k+. Why is someone like him NOT credentialed? What has kept him from doing it? And why is he getting paid upper management money, when he doesn't have the credentials, and isn't qualified for the job?
    FYI: The average salary for a high school counselor in California, $45k, the high is around $70-75k. Ask the board why they are paying $45-55k above the going rate for an unqualified jabroni.

  15. Even the Citizens Oversight Committe hasn't received financial reports and documents it requested months ago. One committee member even resigned in protest. You might consider reposting the Secret News article on Shirley Enomoto and also the COC Chairman's memo on the delays which is a public record.

  16. To the commenter at 1:38-
    In any regime, there are always going to be accusations of foolishness for not taking advantage of advances in technology. Usually such accusations are directed at those who would pay by those who would collect. It's another felonious argument, for technology is always advancing and advancing at an ever accelerating clip. This sets up an absurd scenario where non foolish people would be feverishly tearing down and re-building with ever increasing frequency, presumably trying to not be perceived as foolish by the accusers.

    An alternate scenario would be to engage in what experts tell us is the most effective way to increase student academic achievement: smaller classes and hiring quality teachers. The problem is this solution isn't as sexy and it doesn't pay certain politically well connected local construction firms and bond writing Wall Street concerns.

  17. it's finally good to see some teachers posting here and in this case, i'm glad to see them sign anonymously for fear of losing their jobs. tell us more of what's going on in the school district and who's getting paid for what. we all know that emeryville is well known for resume embellishment.