In February of 2012, Oakland voters passed Measure J, an OUSD bond to finance the improvement of school facilities. At the end of last month, Principal Chelsea Toller of Glenview Elementary announced the school’s plan to use these funds to raze and rebuild Glenview entirely, explaining that a total reconstruction will be cheaper than retrofitting the existing building to meet current standards. Many parents and community members quickly raised concerns about the loss of an old– if not technically registered as “historic”*– landmark and what they believe to be a lack of transparency in the school’s decision making process.
In response to OUSD’s 2012 Master Plan, proposals were drafted last year to seismically retrofit Glenview Elementary, enhance sustainability and expand the school’s capacity. Parents were invited to preside over presentations of proposals at that time, however there was no further inclusion as the process came to a close. The $6M plan to demolish and rebuild the school was decided by an OUSD board vote. The parents behind Facebook page Save Glenview Elementary call this a “surprise decision” and an inappropriate use of tax dollars.
The self-described “collective of concerned parents” behind the Facebook page chose to remain anonymous to “protect their right to privacy and to avoid retribution against [themselves] and [their] children.” In an online statement they went as far as to question “whether OUSD deliberately obscured the truth in order to pass the [measure J] bond” back in 2012. They also argue that “‘Seismic safety’ is a red herring designed to scare people into going along with this ill-conceived plan.” Their statement continues, “It is not necessary to tear down the historic school building. The existing building can be retrofitted. … We are going to try and change their minds.”
However, the district’s decision was based on an assessment done by an independent engineer who played a part in establishing building codes for the state. According to his analysis, bringing the building to seismic as well as electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning standards would cost two thirds of the cost of a complete reconstruction. The state guidelines advise for total reconstruction in all cases in which the cost of retrofitting exceeds fifty percent of the cost of reconstruction. According to OUSD’s Director of Public Affairs, Troy Flint, a retrofit could address seismic insecurity but would not be able to address issues of capacity, sustainability and modernization.
In response to the question of why Glenview was selected amongst the many Oakland schools in poor condition, Mr. Flint referred to the AB300 which is a list of seismically insecure buildings, explaining that Glenview has been flagged for a long time and is therefore the most urgent priority.
The OUSD board has yet to select a temporary location for the school during the projected two-year construction project. Money has been allotted for transportation from the Glenview neighborhood to the temporary location, as there are no prospective locations near the existing school. Some parents on the Facebook page say they would not have chosen Glenview as their first choice for their kids had they known about the plan before the start of the year.
Mr. Troy acknowledged that “public engagement has been poor,” but wanted to assure stakeholders that “no decisions are set in stone.” In a letter to parents Mr. Troy said much of the confusion “stems from insufficient engagement of the Glenview community in the preliminary planning process, particularly neighbors who live in homes surrounding the site, but may lack a current or formal connection to the school. This has fostered misunderstanding and anger, and we apologize for the lack of outreach to this point. It’s a mistake we are committed to correcting and we hope to begin that process with the first in a series of larger community meetings to be held at Glenview Elementary at 5:30pm on Wednesday, February 19.”
Glenview Principal Chelsea Toller and Oakland School Board Trustee Rosie Torres have announced that there will be additional community meetings on dates yet to be determined.
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*an earlier version of this story described the building as an “historic landmark,” which was not correct.