outside of a high school building
School and community members are hopeful that a campus renovation can revitalize McClymonds High School and attract more students. Credit: Pete Rosos

McClymonds High School will soon be getting a makeover. The West Oakland school, which has occupied the same campus since 1938, is set to receive $65 million over the next three years—part of a $735 million bond approved by Oakland voters in 2020 to modernize and upgrade Oakland Unified school sites. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2024, but community members, school and district officials, and architects must first agree on a vision for the campus revamp. 

All those involved agree that the renovation of McClymonds’ campus, located on Myrtle and 26th streets, is long overdue. In addition to needed technology and seismic upgrades, there are environmental and safety concerns to address, including elevated lead levels in the plumbing infrastructure and carcinogens in the groundwater. School and community leaders are hopeful that a modernized campus will also attract more students to McClymonds, where enrollment in recent years has plummeted. 

While optimism about the project is high, there are concerns: Some community members worry the funds won’t be enough to realize all of the desired improvements, and that a renovated campus could catch the eye of charter schools looking to expand or relocate. And the level of community engagement in the planning process thus far hasn’t been what many had hoped.

“This is not going to be an easy process,” said VanCedric Williams, the school board director for District 3 where McClymonds is located. “We’re all in agreement that McClymonds deserves some new energy and some new designs. We’re going to continue to push through this conversation.”

Williams made his remarks last Tuesday during a community meeting, where architects from the firm Perkins Eastman presented two mockup redesigns of the McClymonds campus. 

The first would involve a demolition and rebuild of the school’s shop building, which currently holds McClymonds’ technology center, a woodworking shop, and the Chappell-Hayes health center, which serves both students and the public. Because of seismic concerns, a total reconstruction of the building would be more cost-effective than an upgrade, said Josh Jackson, an associate with Perkins Eastman. The first scenario also included updates to the school’s exercise and locker rooms, cafeteria, and auditorium. The school’s bleachers, which have the same seismic concerns as the shop building, would also be replaced.

In this design, the shop building gets demolished and rebuilt, the bleachers are replaced, and the cafeteria, auditorium, and locker rooms get upgrades. This is not a final design. Courtesy OUSD/Perkins Eastman

The second drawing included a bigger overhaul of the campus grounds. The school parking lot would be relocated from the center of campus to make room for green space, the pool house would be removed to make room for new outdoor basketball courts, and the bleachers would be replaced by a new grandstand and press box. The shop building would be removed altogether, moving those classrooms to the main school building.

Both scenarios include replacing the plumbing in the main building to mitigate lead exposure, upgrading the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, and making minor classroom upgrades, like new paint and flooring. 

This scenario revamps the grounds of McClymonds to create more green space, rearranges some of the athletic courts, and removes the pool house and shop building. This is not a final design. Courtesy OUSD/Perkins Eastman

The goal of Tuesday’s meeting wasn’t to choose one design or the other, but for participants to identify which aspects they liked or disliked from each concept, and make suggestions for improvements that weren’t part of either of the two mockups. 

“I think our kids deserve all of this,” said Misty Cross, a McClymonds alumna and parent. “For a third scenario, I want to see what the difference in cost would be if we had all these things.”

Others at the meeting suggested adding an additional floor to the shop building, adding a third story to the main classroom building, planting more trees on the campus where there is currently a lot of cement, and making sure that space and resources for boys’ and girls’ sports are equally divided. 

Tensions arose over the complete removal of the shop building in scenario two, which would lower the school’s student capacity. That option was included intentionally to reduce the chance that space at McClymonds could be offered to charter schools in the future. Proposition 39, passed in 2000, allows charters to request classrooms for their students that are underutilized in traditional district-run schools. OUSD is required by law to accommodate those requests, and classrooms are offered up based on a formula that incorporates enrollment and capacity at the school. 

While some saw the logic in reducing classroom space, other community members felt that intentionally doing so over charter school concerns is short-sighted.

“I resent the fact that we’ve waited 100 years and we’re talking about charter schools limiting our space,” said Ben Tapscott, an active member in the McClymonds community who coached basketball there for decades. “We don’t need to worry about charter schools, we want our kids to have a larger campus. We don’t want to be limited 100 years later because we’re worried about charter schools now.”

Many OUSD schools are in need of campus upgrades

McClymonds is one of several schools getting a larger share of Measure Y funding. The spending plan that the OUSD board approved in April 2021 also allocates roughly $71 million to Roosevelt Middle School, $57 million to Garfield Elementary School, $50 million to Melrose Leadership Academy, and $35 million to Coliseum College Prep Academy. Other Measure Y projects include $50 million for an administration building at the former Cole Middle School campus in West Oakland, and $200 million for technology, energy efficiency, and health and safety upgrades across the district.

Because of OUSD’s longstanding budget issues, many facilities across the district have gone decades without improvements. A 2020 analysis found it would take about $3.4 billion to fully repair deficiencies and update OUSD’s 108 properties. Measure Y funding is expected to help address some of those issues. 

Previous bond measures B and J, passed in 2006 and 2012 respectively, helped to overhaul the library at McClymonds and provide some minor improvements like intercom upgrades and replacing the turf on the football field, but a major campus renovation wasn’t approved for McClymonds until Measure Y.

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

Like other OUSD high schools, McClymonds has undergone a number of organizational changes over the past 20 years. In 2005, McClymonds as a comprehensive high school was closed, and two small schools were opened on the campus: Business Entrepreneurial School of Technology (BEST) and Experience eXcellence Community Empowerment Leadership (EXCEL). 

In 2010, both schools closed and McClymonds became one school again, but enrollment never entirely bounced back. In the years prior to the split, McClymonds enrolled between 600 and 800 students, on a campus that can accommodate roughly 1,200. Since reopening, the school’s enrollment peaked at about 400 during the 2017-2018 year, and enrollment this year is around 340.

Over the next four years, school leaders hope to increase enrollment to 650 students. Because state funding is tied to student attendance, doing so would bring more money to the school for hiring additional staff, like counselors, and other resources. To attract more students, community members say the school needs modern facilities, state-of-the-art athletic spaces, and room to add more career-pathway programs for students. For those reasons, McClymonds community members last Tuesday said they don’t want to skimp on any of the renovations.

“If we’re trying to build up to 650 students, we need sports and things to draw the students in,” said Tolani King, a McClymonds alumna and parent.

Tuesday’s meeting was attended by few students and families. Cross, a West Oakland mom who was part of the Moms 4 Housing movement, suggested reaching out to fifth-grade students at area schools since they’ll be the ones attending McClymonds once the renovations are done. Wanda Stewart, the garden educator at Hoover Elementary School in West Oakland, also recommended reaching out to students and families at the middle schools that feed into McClymonds to get their feedback on what they’d like to see at the high school.  

The architecture and facilities teams will take the most popular aspects from the two plans presented during Tuesday’s meeting and put them into one proposal to be presented at the next project meeting on June 7. The McClymonds project advisory committee normally meets on the first Tuesday of every month. 

Once a design is settled on, OUSD will put out a request for proposals for companies to carry out the construction, which is expected to begin in 2024. While construction is ongoing, students may be temporarily relocated to another campus. Barring any delays, officials are planning for the modernization to be completed by 2026.

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.