mcclymonds high school court yard
Inside the grounds of McClymonds High School. Credit: Pete Rosos

About 300 staff working in the Oakland Unified School District’s downtown office will stay put for now, after the OUSD school board voted Wednesday night against a plan to rehab the Cole Middle School campus and move the district’s headquarters there.

The decision was part of a larger spending plan the board approved for $735 million in Measure Y construction and renovation bonds. When the board authorized putting the bond on the ballot last summer, one of the potential projects included building a new central office building at the Cole Middle School campus in West Oakland. But the district’s lease at 1000 Broadway ends in August 2022, and some board members and district staff said they are unsure whether construction of a new building could be completed in 16 months.

“I would rather see us spending the Measure Y money on refurbishing school sites rather than on building an office space at the Cole site,” said Director Sam Davis, who represents District 1. “It seems like the lease ends in less than 18 months, and I don’t foresee us being able to complete an entire construction project in that time and getting staff into a different building by that timeline.”

Instead, in a 4-3 vote, the board decided to explore ways of dispersing central office staff across several school campuses, including Brookfield Elementary School, Frick Middle School, Montera Middle School, Markham Elementary, West Oakland Middle School, and the district’s previous central office, 1025 Second Avenue. This plan would require renovating empty classrooms and other unused spaces on campuses into offices and meeting areas.

District 7 Director Clifford Thompson, who voted against the dispersal plan, questioned whether placing staff at school sites could prevent those schools from growing their enrollment. 

“If we’re trying to grow our schools, we need to make certain that we have room and space available in order to do that effectively,” said Thompson. “We’re also shooting ourselves in the foot because we’re restricting the space availability for increasing enrollment.”

District staff estimated that the plan to spread central office staff across multiple campuses could cost about $20 million, down from the Cole plan’s roughly $50 million. In the meantime, the district’s lease at 1000 Broadway could be extended beyond next year. 

The board’s initial Measure Y spending plan includes four rounds of investments, which the district calls “draws.” The first draw down will start in May, when OUSD plans to spend $155,220,000 for the first projects. Projects fully funded in this first round include $35.5 million to expand classrooms at Coliseum College Prep Academy on the Havenscourt campus—a campus that also includes the now-closed Roots International Academy. Another $18 million would go towards rebuilding the fire-damaged cafeteria at Claremont Middle School, and the Laurel Child Development Center will be renovated for $11.5 million. The board will decide at a later date what to do with the extra $30 million the district will save by not moving forward with the Cole administration building project. 

Future rounds of Measure Y spending, in May 2023, June 2025, and May 2027, include projects at Elmhurst United Middle School, Garfield Elementary School, Hillcrest Elementary School, McClymonds High School, Melrose Leadership Academy, Roosevelt Middle School, Piedmont Elementary School, and Skyline High School. An educational leadership center at 1025 Second Avenue, which would provide facilities for career and technical education training, is also in line for funding, along with district-wide initiatives like technology upgrades, accessibility, and energy efficiency.

The school board was required to approve the spending plan before construction on any projects could begin. But the board has flexibility; they can revise the plan and the dollar amounts as the projects progress, said Tadashi Nakadegawa, the director of facilities and construction.

VanCedric Williams, who represents District 3, and Mike Hutchinson, who represents District 5, expressed disappointments that projects to upgrade McClymonds High School won’t be fully paid for until 2025. McClymonds, a historically Black school in West Oakland, has dealt with lead contamination and trichloroethylene, a carcinogen, on its campus in recent years, and has been on previous bond lists. The Measure Y upgrades for McClymonds include campus renovations and expansions.

“I am going to keep speaking up for McClymonds high because they’ve had lead in the water, they had a TCE poisonous leak,” Hutchinson said. “They’re not even getting a big enough chunk of money to really start their projects and we see that other projects are. It’s a matter of equity and fairness, and this is a huge issue.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the bond will support the expansion of Coliseum College Prep Academy on the Havenscourt campus, not the campus of Roots Middle School.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.