Last week the Weekly learned that the Foothill-De Anza Community College District is eyeing the city-owned 8-acre portion of the 35.45-acre Cubberley site as a leading location for a new educational center of just under 100,000 square feet.
The center would fall short of a full third campus (after Foothill and De Anza campuses) but it would nevertheless nearly double the 55,000 square feet now occupied by Foothill classes at Cubberley. It is uncertain what the impact on enrollment might be, but district officials estimate a 2 percent per year growth rate — sizeable if compounded over several decades.
The new center would be funded from the $490.8 million bond measure approved by district voters in 2006, in which a "third campus" was touted.
The city currently leases the remaining 27.45 acres of the Cubberley site from the Palo Alto Unified School District for about $4 million a year, a significant contribution to a tight school budget. Foothill occupies part of that leased area, along with community organizations and some artist studios. Friends of the Library holds its lucrative book sales there.
Existing occupants would be relocated within the Cubberley complex, according to City Manager Frank Benest.
Sale of the city's eight acres could generate up to $35 million for the city, while a long-term lease could produce up to $1.8 million a year, according to city staff estimates.
An underlying, mostly unspoken concern among city officials has been the quiet aging of the half-century-old Cubberley buildings, which need serious upgrading, renovating or energy-efficiency "greening." The new educational center would go far toward creating a vibrant new facility not only at no cost to the city but alsowith substantial revenue benefits, turning a liability into a shining asset. Negotiations have barely begun, so revenue estimates are highly preliminary.
Yet for some reason city officials have kept the lowest possible — almost "stealth" — profile on the district's interest in the site. The matter appeared suddenly Thursday evening on the agenda for this week's City Council meeting — an all-too-common occurrence that drastically shortchanges the public when it comes to being informed about what's going on in a timely manner.
The only prior public mention of the campus was buried deep in a report to the city's Finance Committee earlier last week on financing alternatives for a new public-safety building.
"Obviously, there are numerous, complicated, and important factors to consider in evaluating this proposal," the one-paragraph mention of the possible new Foothill center noted, which contained the sale or lease revenue estimates.
While deeply disapproving of the "closed government" way this announcement was handled, the Weekly nevertheless is encouraged to see that Foothill-De Anza officials are moving forward with their plans to expand, even if there may be other sites in the wings.
The new facility would better serve both the existing 4,000 students who attend classes at the Cubberley campus and future generations of students, old and young.
Initially built in 1955 as a second high school in Palo Alto, Cubberley was closed in 1979 during a time of sharply declining enrollment, following the opening of the newer Gunn High School.
The city acquired its current eight acres in a 2002 land swap with the Palo Alto school district for the Terman Middle School campus, which solved a huge problem for the school district when it needed to reclaim land it had earlier sold to the city but lacked the cash to buy it back.
Now that same land swap may turn out to be a huge boon to the city in terms of its ability to finance a new, badly needed and long-overdue public-safety building, freeing other funds for a major expansion/renovation of city libraries. A recent survey showed majority (57 percent) support for a new public-safety building but not the two-thirds approval needed for bonds.
There will be valid concerns about traffic and other impacts, but this plan seems laden with promise for both Foothill and the city, and the many area residents who appreciate both.