The aging facility at 4000 Middlefield Road served as a high school from 1955 to 1979. Wednesday night it was praised as a "crown jewel of Palo Alto" in a historic but tense City Hall meeting of the school board, Palo Alto City Council and Board of Trustees of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
The school district owns 27 of the acres; the City of Palo Alto owns 8.
Foothill-De Anza, currently the major tenant at Cubberley, wants to buy the city's 8 acres, which are located next to the Charleston Shopping Center. Community college officials have previously indicated the district would raze the old classrooms and construct a "state-of-the-art" facility that would offer its traditional programs as well as new ones, possibly in collaboration with the Palo Alto school district.
"A partnership would allow us not only to continue needed services, but expand opportunities to serve our mutual constituencies," Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda Thor said.
"Best practices include dual and concurrent enrollment of high school students and community college students, and Middle College, not to mention possibilities for shared facilities, laboratories and expertise."
Though some school board members expressed interest in possible collaboration, all five said their first priority is preserving all options for enrollment needs for decades to come.
Largely unspoken, but recalled with deep regret, were school board decisions in the 1980s — a temporary period of declining enrollment — to sell shuttered school sites to housing developers.
School-district enrollment now stands at 11,600, down from the 15,000 to 16,000 in the peak of the Baby Boom era but on a steady increase for the past 20 years.
The district has struggled recently with accommodating that new growth, approximately 2.3 percent a year.
Currently it is spending a $378 million facilities bond to modernize and expand its 17 campuses to meet the demand.
"If you look at our enrollment over the last 50 years, we're on a roller coaster ride," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
"The next twist and turn is unclear, but what's clear is we've gone from a high in the 1960s to a consistent fall down into the 1980s and a steady increase over the past 20 years.
"We're headed up again and that growth is happening at all levels."
Skelly said continued recent growth appears to be "impervious" to factors that typically would slow it down, such as the recession or declines in local real-estate transactions.
"There's a growing premium on quality education, and families are more willing to make sacrifices in order to move their students to quality schools," he said.
Noting the city's "very significant financial constraints," City Manager Jim Keene said the city spent $6.7 million on maintenance at Cubberley between 1996 and 2009, and that it will require at least another $8 million between now and 2015.
The idea of a renovated, and college-district-owned, Foothill campus at Cubberley was initially floated in 2007 but was dropped following months of discussion. At the time, Foothill-De Anza officials indicated they were exploring other options.