Visit almost any one of our school sites and you'll quickly notice one thing: our facilities are worn out.

Heating and air conditioning systems don't work well. Many classrooms are small or dark. There isn't enough storage, meeting and collaboration space or capacity for new technologies. In some places, pavement, walls, and/or ceilings are in poor condition, and many of the portables on our sites need to be replaced.

That's just what's visible to the naked eye. Behind the walls, under the floors, tucked up in the ceilings, we also know that our facilities suffer from ills caused by aging infrastructure. For instance, many of the boilers, pumps and pipes at our schools have reached the end of their useful life. Most of our sites are not energy-efficient. And few sites share the same type of lighting, windows, PA systems, or fire alarms, making maintenance costly and inconvenient.

To make matters worse, most of our facilities were built decades ago, which means they are not suited to current "21st century learning" standards. That's why, starting in February 2012, the Board of Education began discussing the possibility of putting a bond measure on the ballot in November 2014 -- a measure specifically focused on raising money to repair, modernize and, in some cases, replace our aging facilities.

In order to put that bond on the ballot, we need to create a Facilities Master Plan, which is essentially a blueprint for what our school sites will look like for the next several decades. I am excited to report that our district is already working on that plan. In November and December, for instance, teachers and principals met with the architects for this project, Quattrochi Kwok Associates (or QKA), to create "educational specifications" for our elementary, middle and high schools. Those "ed specs" set the long-range plan for the district's educational goals, programs and facilities.

Here's where you can get involved: beginning next month, QKA architects will visit each school in the district to meet with committees that will identify the problems and visions for each site. The committees will be made up of staff, faculty, parents/guardians and neighborhood representatives from each school. The afternoon committee meetings will be closed working sessions. The evening meetings will include time for the public to comment on the proposed site designs that come out of the afternoon meetings. (You can see a full list of the school site meetings on our website's Facilities Master Plan page, https://alamedausd-ca.schoolloop.com/cms/page_view?d=x&;piid=&vpid=1379671694624&group_id=1311480966453&no_controls=t)

In addition, please mark your calendars for the communitywide meetings to be held to discuss options and priorities for our schools. Those meetings will be held April 24 (Alameda High School, 7 to 9 p.m.); April 30 (Encinal High School, 7 to 9 p.m.); and May 8 (Lincoln Middle School, 7 to 9 p.m.).

Can't make the meetings? You can stay up to date on what's happening -- and make comments -- on the individual school site sections on our Facilities Master Plan webpage.

Just click on the school that interests you (in the right-hand column) to find a copy of the 2012 Facilities Assessment Report on that site, as well as minutes from the meeting and a link to make a comment about it. All comments will be posted on that school's page.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of your participation -- as parents, guardians, teachers, staff, neighbors and community members -- in this process. Our schools are educational institutions, yes, but they are also deeply embedded in our community life. We need to hear your voices in order to create a plan for our schools that truly reflects our community's values and needs.

If you have questions about this project -- or anything else happening in AUSD right now -- please contact me at 510-337-7060 or kvital@alameda.k12.ca.us. And I'd like to wish all of you a wonderful winter holiday, a restful winter break and a very Happy New Year.

Kirsten Vital is the Alameda Unified School District's superintendent of schools.