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The King Open School and Cambridge Street Upper School campus at 850 Cambridge St., estimated to be renovated starting around 2016, could host district administration offices. (Photo: Bing)

The King Open School and Cambridge Street Upper School campus at 850 Cambridge St., estimated to be renovated starting around 2016, could host district administration offices. (Photo: Bing)

One of the next two Cambridge public school campuses to be renovated could hold the district’s administrative offices.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because city councillor Leland Cheung proposed that the city manager look into the feasibility of the idea back in November 2012.

Sixteen months later, with a new city manager in office, he was able to announce at a Monday roundtable meeting between the City Council and School Committee that the looking has begun.

“The city manager’s told me there might be space,” Cheung said. “I think having the school administration building in a school would be a good thing to do.”

There’s no confirmed plan, Deputy City Manager Lisa Peterson said the next day, but the potential of relocating the school administration offices is being evaluated along with development plans for the next two schools.

With the introduction of middle schools to the district in September 2012, four school campuses were split in two. The city has concrete plans to renovate three: The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School at 100 Putnam Ave., which is underway for a September 2015 opening a cost of about $84.5 million; the King Open School at 850 Cambridge St., estimated to start around 2016; and The Tobin School at 197 Vassal Lane. Based on proposed three-year construction cycles, construction would start at the Tobin around 2019.

Home, sweet home

Meanwhile, the city has been rented 39,666 square feet of administrative space for decades at 159 Thorndike St., a 124-year-old building owned the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston.

That’s not necessarily how much space the district offices need, though, according to district Chief Operating Officer James Maloney. “As an old school there is a fair amount of inefficient space, thus any new location would be considerably less than the current square footage,” he said.

Plans for a 2003 consolidation that shrunk the district to a dozen elementary schools from 15 included estimates for moving the administration: savings of $262,155 annually in today’s dollars for rental, utility and custodial costs and a need for “the equivalent of 25 classroom spaces” for administrative and support offices and storage. Both figures have changed over the years.

Maloney pegged current annual rent for the Thorndike building at $149,000, heat and light at $99,000 and custodial costs at an additional $60,000. “The heating and lighting systems are very old and inefficient, and considerable savings would be anticipated in a different setting,” Maloney said. “Additionally, the 25-classroom estimate of size is from a dated study, and I believe that number to also be too high for today’s needs. An exact number would have to come from the evaluation.”

Room to grow

If an evaluation recommends putting administrative offices on a campus at all, there is one factor that makes King Open more likely than the Tobin: While most city schools are bigger than current zoning law allows – the Tobin is over by 58,000 square feet –  the King Open School has room to grow.

It would get school officials and clerks, as well as their landlords, out of a literally deteriorating situation. Officials have said the Catholic Church is kind to charge so little in rent, but the low rent makes it impossible to pay for improvements in the crumbling space.

The combined cost of three school renovations with potentially no reimbursement from the state could limit the city’s ability to take on other capital projects, including a new home for the administration, city and school officials found at a roundtable meeting in June.

But when Cheung proposed the school-administrative offices combination in 2012, it was greeted with skepticism by Alice Turkel, then a member of the School Committee. The campuses “are already going to be double full,” she said. “They’re extra tight right now and once renovated, [even] with space added, the idea you’d find room for central offices seems unlikely to me.”