Lum Parents Meet to Learn School’s Fate

Dennis Evanosky A community meeting to discuss the future of Lum School took place at Wood Middle School last week.


In 1961 the Alameda Unified School District built Lum Elementary School on “made land” — property that once lay beneath the waters of San Francisco Bay.  Utah Construction had “made” this land in the mid-1950s when it filled in a portion of the bay to create South Shore. Four years later AUSD opened Will C. Wood Middle School on this same “made” land. 

In a bit of irony, the school district hosted a meeting last Friday evening at the latter school to announce that it was closing the former school because the land beneath it was unstable.

An overflow crowd packed Wood’s gymnasium to learn that structural engineers had determined that the ground beneath the school could liquefy during an earthquake. Members of the school board and Superintendent Sean McPhetridge attempted to explain to the unhappy parents the tests showed that an earthquake could sink the classroom they intended to build by as much as five inches. 

Members of the audience reacted negatively to the expert the school district brought in to explain all this. The atmosphere was especially tense when the expert replied to questions with “that’s not my area of expertise. “

After testing five more samples from around the Lum campus, engineers recommended that AUSD “develop a plan to provide suitable alternate facilities for the students as soon as feasible.” The school board originally intended to announce a decision at its May 9 meeting. They postponed announcing their decision until the May 23 meeting. 

There is precedent for not building schools on “made land.” In the 19th century, people knew  this type of property by another name: “water lots.” In one instance in 1811 in Louisiana the law permitted the sale of these lots, but “none of the water lots were permitted for schools.” 

Lum Elementary School and Wood Middle School are not the only schools built on this “made land” on the Main Island. Paden and Otis elementary schools, Lincoln Middle School and Encinal High School also share this distinction. 

The school district also built Amelia Earhart and Bay Farm elementary schools on made land that filled the Bay Farm Island marshes. Ruby Bridges Elementary School and the College of Alameda were both built on the made land that covered that marsh crust, which was first filled in to create the San Francisco Aerodrome around 1930. 

According to the school district, “Geotechnical engineers have tested the soil at several other AUSD campuses and found that earthquake-induced settlements do not pose safety concerns at those sites.”

In addition AUSD points out that it is evaluating part of the nearby Wood Middle School campus. According to the district, “the Wood foundation is more resistant to liquefaction.” 

To learn more, visit and click on “web page” under “Lum Elementary School Soils Issue.”

George Cram Atlas 1908 The Alameda Sun was not surprised to find out Lum Elementary School sits on shaky ground. This map helps show the approximate current-day locations of Wood and Lum schools (pink boxes), Otis Drive (dashed line) Shoreline Drive (blue line) and Grand Street (purple dotted line.) The schools sit on tidelands reclaimed in the 1950s.