By Michael Karpman
While agreements for the shared use of city and school district facilities are prevalent nationwide, the City of Emeryville, Calif., has taken this approach to a new level with its ambitious plan to build the Emeryville Center of Community Life.
The project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2015, will bring together school and community services at one centrally located campus. Local leaders envision a one-stop location where families not only send their children to school, but also have access to afterschool programs, health and family support services, a library, child care and prekindergarten programs, a wide range of recreation opportunities, college classes, and job training courses. City and school district officials have worked together for more than a decade to make this bold vision a reality.
From Joint Use to Integrated Services
The concept of joint use is not new to the City of Emeryville and Emery Unified School District (EUSD), which had previously developed agreements to utilize school sports fields, gyms, pools, classrooms, and other facilities for city recreation programming. Yet in 2001, the bankruptcy and state takeover of EUSD prompted city and school board leaders to identify ways to operate more efficiently and effectively, and the city has loaned the district money as it worked with the state to overcome its financial difficulties.
A joint master planning process for education and youth services brought community residents and leaders together to develop a more coordinated and cost-effective approach for serving children, youth and families. In particular, local officials determined that the district should bring elementary and secondary school facilities to one campus, thereby reducing overhead costs associated with operating the existing set of buildings for the city's small student population.
Co-locating additional community resources would provide what city officials describe as "cradle-to-cradle" services that meet the needs of families at every stage of life and create new opportunities for adults to mentor youth and for older students to mentor younger students. The completed Center will also include courtyards, plazas, playgrounds, and multi-use sports fields, making it a vibrant hub of community life.
Assets and Challenges
Emeryville is fortunate to have many unique assets upon which to draw as it pursues this major project. The city is situated in a 1.2-mile urban area between Oakland and Berkeley, and has a population of about 10,000 residents. Yet the number of individuals in the city swells to 30,000 during the day as workers commute to the many corporate offices in the city, which include the headquarters of Pixar Animation Studios, as well as offices for Bayer, Novartis and State Farm. These companies provide the city with a strong commercial tax base, and the chamber of commerce has played a key role in generating support for local plans from the business community.
The city has also faced its own challenges in promoting equity for its diverse youth population and in identifying an appropriate location for the Center in a region where property values are high and land is scarce. Ultimately, the city decided to redevelop the site of the existing high school, building upward by incorporating a multi-story design. The district is currently leasing an unused school building in Oakland for its high school students as the Center is under construction.
Much of the funding for the project derives from a large school district bond measure passed by nearly 80 percent of local voters, with additional funds sought from grants and state school construction funding. While the state's closure of local redevelopment agencies was a major setback, it has not stopped the project from moving forward.
The city and EUSD have developed or are in the process of developing memoranda of understanding for building, governing and operating the Center, including agreements for joint use of Center facilities. Partnerships with Alameda County Health Department, Berkeley City College and other organizations will make it possible to offer the wide variety of education, health, and recreation services that the community envisions for the Center.
"The Center will be the nexus of the community...the commons of Emeryville which brings all of the city's stakeholders together under one roof for education, socialization, fitness, and play," said Community Services Director Cindy Montero.