Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 9, 2010

Big changes afoot at Gunn, Paly

Workers move dozens of portables to clear sites for major construction

by Chris Kenrick

Teenagers heading back to school this fall will find dramatically altered landscapes at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

At Gunn, the 26 portable classrooms that comprised the "Titan Village" section of campus have been moved to the parking lot to make way for construction of a new, two-story building for the math and English departments.

At Paly, the campus is abuzz with "belly dump" trailers, bulldozers, backhoes and motor graders.

The Churchill Avenue field containing baseball and softball diamonds has been dug up resembling a moonscape studded with mounds of dirt and gravel and will not re-open until February.

And the entire central campus is fenced off as workers assemble 16 portable classrooms in the Paly quad.

The work funded by a $378 million facilities bond that was approved by 77.5 percent of school district voters in June 2008 eventually will touch all 17 campuses of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

The bond program is intended to modernize outdated classrooms and expand school capacity to accommodate anticipated enrollment growth.

Now at 11,680 students, district-wide enrollment has crept up steadily from a low of 7,452 in 1989-1990.

The previous high point was at the crest of the Baby Boom years in 1967-68, when enrollment was 15,575 and Palo Alto had three comprehensive high schools.

Enrollment had dropped to about 11,000 by 1979, when Cubberley High School was closed.

"We don't know what will happen with enrollment we certainly wish we did," School Superintendent Kevin Skelly said in a meeting last month.

"But if you look at the last 20 years it seems that our enrollment is impervious to some factors. Whether the economy is good or bad, enrollment continues to increase."

Skelly said the bond measure projects "take us to capacity" at the district's three middle schools and two high schools.

"If it were to go well above that, we'd certainly have to consider another middle school or another high school," he said, speaking at a June 16 joint meeting of the Palo Alto City Council and the boards of the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District regarding the future of Cubberley.

The summer changes at the high schools are aimed at clearing space for construction of brand-new facilities.

At Paly, portables were cleared from a spot near Embarcadero Road as well as from a quad near the school's corporation yard to create construction space for a Media Arts building and a two-story classroom building that will house the math and social studies departments.

Workers are under tight deadlines to have the quad portables hooked up and ready to go by Aug. 13 so that teachers can move in on Aug. 16.

The first day of school for students is Tuesday, Aug. 24.

Groundbreaking on the new structures themselves could be as late as next spring or summer, depending on the speed of state approvals.

Plans for the new buildings on both high school campuses will be submitted within the next four weeks to the Division of State Architect, charged with oversight of all school construction, according to Thomas Hodges, a senior vice-president of O'Connor Construction Management Inc. and program director for the school-district projects.

The Board of Education, at the recommendation of site committees at both high schools, decided to move the portables this summer rather than wait a year so that construction could begin quickly once the projects clear the Division of State Architect, expected to take up to nine months.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2010 at 8:56 am

What will HSR do to all of this? How much campus will be sacrificed? How much of the football field will have to go? Why has not the PAUSD been involved in discussions and protests. WHY???? I have not heard or read one word from the Board of Education or the Administration!!


Posted by Tyler Hanley, online editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The following comment was moved from a duplicate thread:

Posted by Wondering, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 52 minutes ago

Has all this building been approved by the City Council? Were residents allowed input in these building decisions? It seems that when certain entities in the city want to build they are subjected to endless scrutiny--also when people want to do simple remodeling they are also put through the ringer. How come the schools get a free pass from the Palo Alto process?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

HSR will not affect the Paly campus - it will take away two of the four lanes on Alma.

Wondering: Relax. All of the plans have been in the works starting the day after the bond was approved. There have been countless review meetings with theP city and there have been many, many public review/input meetings...including meetings on landscaping for example. The meeting dates have been well-publicized in advance via the usual notices in the local papers. Plus both The Weekly and Daily News have provided advance articles in their newspapers - both in print and online.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

We received multiple mailings announcing public meetings about the architectural designs and constructions at the campuses. There were enough coverage at PA Online about the design reviews of the new buildings at the high schools. These project were not done behind closed doors, and enough communications have been sent to residents about these projects.


Posted by Wondering, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:49 am

Crescent Park Dad and resident--thanks for the info. It seemed that this was done very quietly--why can't other city projects be dealt with in this manner?


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

Rest assured, Palo Altans, the process has been entirely public and public input was solicited and heard many, many times. Besides local media, every note and plan from every facilities meeting has been posted on the PAUSD web site for public inspection. And yes, there were plenty of ups and downs along what has been a long and winding path. Many were unhappy about the relocation of a Memorial Garden at Paly, others loudly objected to the removal of an "alee" of trees. The views of Building A or B from Embarcadero or El Camino has been thoroughly discussed. Childhood memories of various buildings have been widely aired, as have stories of rats in the rafters. As a parent who is not especially involved in any of this, I have still heard all of these details and more. Nobody got off easy. As in all Palo Alto projects, it has been, and will continue to be, a long and arduous process. And while my own child will never enjoy these improvements, as a Palo Altan I am delighted that these much needed updates are being made for the benefit of countless future students.


Posted by mjm, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

Wondering,

Interesting question. I don't think the City Council approves public school buildings and designs--the state has to approve the plans and that's why it takes 9-12 months from the time the school board approved plans are done. I do know that schools had to do a traffic report for the increased enrollment and the city had to "accept or reject" it.

The city cannot tell a public school not to accept more students and the public school is required by the state to "house" all students who legally (live within the boundaries or are allowed by court order) require education.

Residents were given ample opportunity to provide comment (several community meetings at night and open monthly meetings with architects) at both high schools.


Posted by Charlie, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

Does anyone have a guesstimate as to when the Paly construction will be finished?


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

Just to clarify, these are school district projects, not city projects. They have been approved by the PAUSD board of education after numerous site meetings and have met all city, county and state requirements - with the added approval of the state architect required since they are school buildings. All plans and minutes are available on the pausd.org website.


Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Charlie,
Current estimates call for completion of the Media Arts building and two-story math and social studies building in 2013. By that time, the new theater also should be well under way with completion of that estimated for 2015.


Posted by howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Re "What will HSR do to all of this?"

How wide do you think the tracks are? It appears from google maps that there is room for two more tracks and a bit of an embankment along the high school, although the bike path along the tracks (which is on the CalTrain right of way by its permission) would have to go.

Our students would be better served by far sighted support of HSR rather than mindless NIMBYism.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Ventura
on Jul 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I agree with Howard, HSR could fit in the existing right of way but more importantly is the grade separation. Raising or lowering the train or the cross streets so there is no way to be on the tracks would be much better for all of us - safer for the kids, safer for bikes and pedestrians, better for traffic.

Now if only HSR can get it's act together (but that's a different topic).


Posted by HSR again?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm

How did HSR make it's way into this?

Howard, I think our students (and ourselves) would be served better by thoughtful consideration of transportation alternatives than mindless HSR boosterism. So rather than slam your neighbors, let's aim for the high road of discussing the facts and alternatives. Who knows, maybe we'll learn something?


Posted by Judith, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm

School district projects are reviewed, approved and permitted by the Office of the State Architect. Palo Alto has no official control over what happens on school campuses.

I think that some citizens ignore official-looking notices because they are so plain and boring-looking, so they don't even realize they have been informed. We can't really force people to read their mail.


Posted by student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 10, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Paly's web journalism class The Paly Voice has been posing stories and updates on many of these meetings throughout the year. Here are a couple:

Web Link

Web Link


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Wondering,
You wrote
"Has all this building been approved by the City Council? Were residents allowed input in these building decisions? It seems that when certain entities in the city want to build they are subjected to endless scrutiny--also when people want to do simple remodeling they are also put through the ringer. How come the schools get a free pass from the Palo Alto process?"

I hope you are expressing concern over how little scrutiny this important process has been subject to (even seeming attempts to avoid it) and not just general bitterness over city politics that have nothing to do with the school project.

The other responses to your question above were completely predictable to those of us who TRIED to take part in the process. First of all, even though school construction has such major consequences to our city, the city council has no authority or involvement in the high school planning or building. School board are legally almost completely autonomous bodies.

Secondly, the community was allowed to attend poorly advertised meetings that were mainly held at noon on campus. The extent of community involvement was that community members were allowed to sit in the back of the room, and at the end of the hour, they were allowed around two minutes (strictly enforced) to ask a question via a card they could submit earlier. If the person had concerns that were not dealt with or wanted to make a rebuttal to an erroneous answer, there was NO opportunity to do so. The person's personal information was then posted on-line with someone else's interpretation of what they had said. (And their name may or may not have been correctly attributed to the properly or improperly summarized comment.)

Community members could also attend a few update meetings at the district office, sit through a long process, and then make a timed comment of 3 minutes or less at the end. No opportunity for question, discussion, rebuttal or follow up.

The community was barely tolerated, I would call it barely humored through all of this. If you were looking for the info, you could find it, but the big issues were never really advertised, and the school board went ahead with its agenda without wanting or soliciting community input.

Many of the improvements are non-controversial and would have no objections from the community anyway.

However, putting in just that first two-story building at Gunn will, by the architect's own admission take at least 15% of the total cost for that building (around $3million) just because it's a two-story building. (Two-story school construction costs more per square foot -- by a lot -- than single story.)

The only reason we are getting a two-story building instead of a much cheaper one-story there is either
1) to house far more students at the Gunn campus, enlarging it to a size where research shows educational quality is likely to suffer and important social aspects that contribute to alienation (and frankly, the difference between someone at risk just having suicidal thoughts and acting on them, such as lack interconnectedness and lower density of social networks) will also certainly suffer, or
2) to give administrators second-story views of the hills, and/or when everyone find out how hot the buildings get on the second floor, guaranteed airconditioning for the whole building (as administrators are planning on moving into that building). Everyone dismisses opening Cubberley offhand as being so expensive -- without ever actually calculating that cost -- and there's been no discussion of this cushy change for administrators at Gunn and the millions that will cost.

The architects have stated publicly in school board reviews that the primary priority in the planning was to accommodate more students.

I could see from the very beginning that we would hear this excuse (as in comments above) that the public had been notified and no one was interested. Baloney. Community input was a sham on this.

I think regarding this issue (not the improvements, the enlargements) the plan is a bad one, I don't think the money is being spent well, and I think it's taking our high schools in a direction that is bad for quality of education and unhealthy for the kids emotionally (and we shouldn't be spending all this money to make things worse and then pick up the pieces only after we see even worse consequences than we have suffered already).

However, speaking as someone who tried to be involved, there was no serious attempt to involve the community -- there was a SHOW of it only -- and there was no attempt at all to engage the community in the serious issues such as population size of the schools that were controlling the design and how the money is being spent. (The size of the school, overall, by the way, turns out to be more important to educational quality than even class size. How many parents realize this and have been engaged by the school board on this issue?) I do feel that the process seemed to be set up for show and that it obstructed community involvement.


Posted by A Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Wondering,
Just to be clear -- that two-story building will cost on the order of $20million. The architect admitted that about 15% at least would be the penalty for building two-story, hence $3million just to make it a two-story building (at least).


Posted by A Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Sorry, I did proofread once, but THIS is what I meant to say:

"1) to house far more students at the Gunn campus, enlarging it to a size where research shows educational quality is likely to suffer and important social aspects that contribute to alienation (and frankly, to the difference between someone at risk just having suicidal thoughts and acting on them, such as lack OF interconnectedness and lower density of social networks) will also certainly suffer, or"


Posted by A Palo Alto parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm

More Building Forever. Every school my children attended in the Palo Alto Public system, from K-11, had large construction projects going on the whole time they were on each campus. It was only when they went to a local private school for middle school and now that they're in private schools again, that he has a serene, peaceful setting for his studies. Another one of those "if I'd known it would be like this I would never have moved to Palo Alto" moments.

And btw, the cost of sending them to those private schools, for even a year or two at a time, was well worth it in terms of making up for a lot of bad schooling and damage that happened in the public schools.


Posted by A parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Duveneck has a reputation for having more "affluenza" than other Palo Alto schools. It's very large and crowded, and there have been reports of more bullying there, too.

We love our neighborhood schools. I'm sorry you've had the problems you've had. Many of us move here for the schools and can't afford to send our kids to private, even if we wished to.

I'd like to see this opportunity, with all the money we're spending, go to improvements and things that will solve problems, not make them worse, such as making our school populations larger than research says is prudent or healthy.

Your solution won't work for people who want our public schools to work for their kids. I know you have to do what you feel is best for your kids, but we all benefit when people like you put energy into improving the schools and getting involved when things like the above come up.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I do agree with what A Parent says above.

We have had our kids go through construction at each school they have been at. From portables which leaked or flooded and not enough shade to eat lunch in summer at elementary school, to no swimming, no gyms and walking on boardwalks to get around middle school and finally the last couple of years at high school will once again be surrounded by construction - coupled with the fact that we have done some major remodeling at home, my own Paly student doesn't know what it is like to go to a school that hasn't been under construction for the major part of the k - 12 process.

It is a shame but I sincerely hope that once the work is done, nothing will need to be done for 20 years. But, then this is what we were told after B for E, so I won't hold my breath.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Seems like construction is a byproduct of growth, which is a byproduct of where we are in the growth cycle. We moved here from a similar 'burb in the East 7 years ago - guess what - they had to open a couple elementaries (portables don't seem to work there), then a new middle school (like PA), then re-did/enlarged the high school from scratch (we are expanding two). It happens. Not sure how much it effects the kids though - we never noticed it, aside from losing playing fields for a while, which is too bad, but oh well.

On the meetings - I'm attended one of the Gunn meetings and it was informative, and fairly tightly managed, as described above. I was fine with that, since it was clear that there were some ranters in the audience.

Personally, I am good with that. The way to impact the schools on high-level things is to elect a school board that you like; they hire a super that they like; and the rest flows from that. If we have too much "direct input" the process can get out of hand - as our experience with things like Mandarin Immersion to Elementary Math can attest (not to mention the California Constitution). I'm fine with letting the elected board/super run things and then throwing them out if we don't like what we get. In general, I am fine with how things are and how they are going, including the building projects.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2010 at 9:56 pm

@ Concerned Parent: Unfortunately your version of what happens at the meetings implies that all the meetings are that way. That may be true for the Gunn meetings - but that is not my experience with any of the Paly meetings.

From what I can tell, the Gunn meetings started at various times - 12:30, 1:00, 2:00, with the community meetings starting at 6:30 or 7.

The Paly meetings always started after school (3:30) and the community meetings at 7.

It's too bad the Gunn meetings are not satisfactory for you and I understand your criticism. However it is not accurate to paint the rest of the schools/meetings to be just like the Gunn experience --- and should not say such things about the other meetings without actually attending them.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

@ Kate: re: HSR

I found three letters from PAUSD/Skelly addressed to the HSR regarding multiple, multiple concerns regarding HSR land use, noise, effects on traffic, pedestrians, bicycles...vibration, noise level inside the classrooms, effects on the historical buildings, grade separations and much more.

Two letters were written in April and the third in June. You can view these letters via the pausd.org website.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I did not mean for my comments to be taken as generalizations about all of the meetings, I apologize that I gave that impression.

I was, as you said, speaking about my experience at the Gunn meetings. There has been no substantive community input. Attitude among the administrators toward community input is as bad or worse than "Me Too"'s above.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Me too
Your comments are starkly different than what I hear from other parents, who actually care what happens to the quality of education in our schools. What age are your kids (if you have kids in our schools)?


OOPS! That last post was by me, concerned parent, toward Crescent Park Dad -- do not ask me how it ended up BY CPD!


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Me Too,
Here's why I'm not fine with the construction plans at the high schools.

We're spending tens of millions so that we can enlarge the Paly and Gunn campuses to take an additional 300-500 students above the current 1800-1900. There is substantial research that above 2100 students, even in higher socioeconomic status areas, measures of educational quality elbow down sharply. The consensus in educational review articles seems to be that optimal size for high schools is 600-900 students, up to 1500 in high socioeconomic status areas. We could be using the money to reduce our students populations to within optimal range. No one has taken a critical look at what it would take to reopen Cubberley nor discussed with the public the trade offs.

Studies show school size has as much or more impact on education than class size, yet the district has failed to have any conversation with the public about the implications of the costly changes to enlarge the schools.

We voted for this Measure to improve our schools, enlarging the high schools under the circumstances is almost certain to make things worse.

Additionally, larger schools suffer from problems that affect emotional health and socialization: there is more bullying, more violence, etc. Studies show that there are less dense social networks, for example -- and density of social networks has an effect on whether kids who consider suicide will act on it, a consideration that is all too close to home.

Studies show that the achievement gap will almost certainly widen with this move to ultralarge school size. As a parent, I'd like to see narrowing it taken more seriously, given the money we are spending.

I find your dismissive attitude toward parent concern and involvement flip and destructive. Rather than criticizing parents, I would criticize the complete lack of established process for parents to impact policy when there are strong feelings in the community. There is absolutely nothing at all like the CA proposition process in our school district. All parents can do is speak out -- to apparently little effect. Hence the rancor. If there were a process by which parents could effect change when it was very important to them and there was a consensus in the community, you'd see a much more positive dynamic when the community disagreed with the school board.

The district hasn't brought the issues to the public on this one, even at the planning meetings. We'll get the rancor only when the effects of these decisions shows up in the negative effects to our kids and our test scores.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 11:17 pm

To Crescent Park Dad,
Since my response above wasn't clear (somehow your moniker ended up repeated in my post)

I did not mean for my comments to be taken as generalizations about all of the meetings, I apologize that I gave that impression.

I was, as you said, speaking about my experience at the Gunn meetings. There has been no substantive community input. Attitude among the administrators toward community input was as bad or worse than "Me Too"'s above.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 12:09 am

Concerned, clearly you feel strongly, but I do not agree. I looked at the writings on school size about a year ago and did not find them compelling. Also, there are many fine larger high school schools (check and you'll see), some quite a bit larger than ours, so experience does not bear out the fear as well. Finally, Dr. Skelly and his staff have lots of both practical and theoretical knowledge on this matter, which of course is why they were hired, as well as having studied the details of our particular situation. Apparently they do not believe the planned expansion will lead to worse schools and want to expand the current schools.

So I'm inclined to rely on Dr. Skelly and our elected school board more than your views on school size. I don't mean that to be disrespectful - I imagine in your professional domain you are quite likely more knowledgeable than they are. But I like our elected and hired officials to run the process and respect the fact that, esp in our town, they need to stay focused to prevent things from getting off-track. I don't always agree with them either, btw, but I have the comfort that, if I really get irked, I can work to replace them next time.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 12, 2010 at 7:51 am

Concerned

I agree with you wholeheartedly now.

Getting the work done at the schools is a very different subject than why the work is being done in the first place. Some of the work, like upgrading the Tower Building at Paly and the Haymarket Theatre is long overdue and should have been done at the same time the B for E work was done, building the new science building and improving the pool. It was gross mismanagement to con us with two separate bonds to get basic upgrades done. But increasing the amount of classroom space to turn our schools into mega high schools has never been something the majority of parents have ever wanted.

When we moved to Palo Alto before our eldest had started kindergarten, the schools at all levels were small with a great community feel. No one ever asked the parents or the community if we wanted mega sized schools. All that we have ever been asked for is money for improvements which have been badly needed - never whether we wanted mega schools. It is time the residents and future parents had a say in what size we want our schools to be.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 8:44 am

Parent, you might not have been paying close attention when the Bond was approved, but here is the first item listed in the Bond for projects at both Gunn and Paly:

- Construct new permanent classrooms and classroom buildings to accommodate enrollment growth and expanded programs

There was lots of discussion at the time about enrollment growth (which seemed faster then than now, I believe) and whether we should re-open Cubberley instead. The people voted, the Bond passed, and here we are. Personally, I did not vote for the Bond, but I do feel that once the people have spoken and the mandate given, it is not the time to revisit the issue unless circumstances materially change.


Posted by One Gunn Mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 12, 2010 at 11:51 am

Even without the population growth, the bond was needed to replace portable buildings. Gunn currently has 30 portables--the back lot looked like a trialer park--26 are in the parking lot to be replaced by permanent buildings. The portables have been there for 20+ years! These were never intended to be permanent. Many of the projects at other schools are also replacing portables.

As to the public input at Gunn, there has been plenty of opportunity. When a parent challenged the 2 story plan, the architects went back (at the school district's expense) and layed out a 1 story scenario. Gunn has a utility right of way that cuts across campus (water, I think) that prevents building in certain areas. Everthing has to fit around this which makes it harder for a 1 story design. Almost all of the inner campus was covered with buildings and walkways--there was very little green space and trees left. No one liked the 1 story plan--especially the students.

The only administrators moving into the 2 story building are support for the departments located there--it makes sense for teachers to be housed where they teach (teachers do share classrooms) and easier for kids to find them. The principal, assistant principals, and front office staff are not moving into the 2 story building.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 10:39 am

Me Too,
You say you looked at the writing on school size and did not find them compelling. Please post a link to whatever you are looking at, because my reading of the research is that you'd have to cherry pick a few papers to come to your conclusion, the majority of the research in recent years points to a whole host of damaging effects of ultra-large schools.

That is not to say that "large" schools are bad -- you have to define what large and ultra-large are -- in our area, which is higher SES, an optimal size can be up to 1500 students. Ultra-large would be over 2100.

You say you there are many fine larger schools -- you're comparing apples and oranges. The vast majority of "fine" schools larger than ours are not public schools that have to take everyone, they have selective admissions based on academic merit that make them almost like mini-colleges. No comparable.

I'm sure you could find one or two examples to make your point, but the fact is, you could find a sea of counter examples because ultra-large schools are far more difficult to provide the kind of quality we expect here. The optimal school size is not over 2100, that's where quality measures by and large elbow over. If you look at the data, the rankings in California, etc. -- if you value getting the best quality education in a public school -- spending millions to pack more than 2100 students onto our campuses is going in the wrong direction. Especially since no one has taken a good look at what the community wants for our schools, we have a third campus available, and no one has looked at whether we could get what we want at all three campuses for the same money.

The bigger point is that the community voted for these taxes to improve our schools. People dedicate huge amounts of personal resources to live in Palo Alto for the schools. It matters whether the community wants the money spent to build mega-schools or whether it wants more optimally sized schools that are far more likely to offer educational quality, better opportunities, and more supportive emotional environments.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

Me Too,
Re: the bond

You're only making my point for me -- that the priority in spending at Gunn and Paly has been to enlarge the schools. That's money that could go to improvements instead, because the two-story buildings this expansion necessitates cost far more per square foot than single story.

Take another look at that bond (read the whole thing). It AMPLY covers the possibility of buying back land at Cubberly and/or fixing up Cubberley if the school board decided to do that.

Accommodating additional enrollment exclusively by enlarging Gunn and Paly was not a GOAL of the bond nor a contingency. The goal of the bond was to improve our schools.

As for the discussion about Cubberley:
Discussion about Cubberley you are talking about is outdated and never was very detailed or conclusive -- the high school task force ultimately asked if they could do something else instead, like look at the curriculum. No one got down to brass tacks on that issue.

Regardless, it's not relevant to the matter at hand, because there was no economic downturn (changes the costs) then and there was no discussion of what the alternative (putting multistory on megaschools at Gunn and Paly) would be and cost.

In finding us the best way forward for our money, it's a very relevant discussion that should be happening NOW and isn't.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

I'm guessing the utility easement through the Gunn campus is the Hetch-Hetchy water main...it runs parallel to Foothill Expressway.

@ Concerned: I hope the Gunn administration becomes more receptive to input and provides enough time for thoughtful insight.

Whether people are for it or against it --- it is happening as we speak (write). So let's make sure that the planners give us their best efforts (which I believe they are trying to do - but they can't think of every nuance). I have taken the occasional opportunity to email with a committee member (usually a member of the faculty) and have had very satisfactory communications.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 11:39 am

One Gunn Mom,
You said,
"Even without the population growth, the bond was needed to replace portable buildings."

Absolutely. I'm not arguing that we don't need to make improvements. I'm arguing (using actual numbers from that project, for example) that we'd be better off spending $8 million putting in a nice, smaller, more open single-story structure there, instead of spending $20 million putting in a two-story structure because we have to accommodate all this growth at that site.

(I mean, frankly, if you value open space so much that you're willing to spend all those millions for any amount, we'd be better off reopening Cubberley because the improvements at Gunn and Paly could actually go for smaller, rather than larger, student bodies.)

Get in there and take a closer look at expenditures and what is being planned. Key people involved in planning this project are expecting shortfalls before all the IMPROVEMENTS are done; they have stated publicly the expectation of going back to the community and getting more money later. That makes it all the more critical to examine why we are ultimately going to put tens of millions just into the premium on building (several) multistory structures at the high schools.

As to your point about input at Gunn, I completely disagree. I saw that 1-story scenario situation unfold, and it was so strange it was almost suspect (the architects do make more money on the 2-story plan since they work on commission and the 2-story costs so much more).

The architects didn't really lay out a 1-story alternative plan, they drew extra squares onto the schematics in prime spaces, such as smack in the center of the quad, with area that far exceeded the usable area of the second story they were replacing. More than one parent asked for specifics, such as square footage and usage details -- and why, for example, there wasn't just a slightly larger one story where the 2-story is (2 story buildings don't give you twice the usable square footage, because of of vertical elements like stairs and elevators) instead of unrelated extra building.

One parent specifically asked for square footage numbers and no one answered. As I pointed out before, there was no back-and-forth. There was no DISCUSSION with the community. People had to submit little question cards and were not allowed a response or follow up if their question wasn't answered.

The CA State Allocation Board's Public School Construction Cost Reduction Guidelines says that multistory construction is so much more costly per square foot than single story that it's only worth building up in narrow circumstances (that don't apply to Gunn at all, though in one case may apply to Paly). They say multistory costs so much more, it's not even worth building multistory to save land expenses and the district already owns the land.

Anyway, the document also says if districts want matching funds, they have to show they have made an effort to substantially comply with the guidelines to reduce costs. We aren't applying for state matching funds, but I don't think that was a hard fact (at least in the architect's mind) then. (Just curious, why aren't we asking for matching funds, by the way?)

In the case of proposed multistory construction, because multistory is so costly, the recommendation of the Cost Reduction Guidelines is to come up with an alternative single-story plan and compare. Hence what I saw as a completely inadequate, even disingenuous show of an alternative 1-story plan. There wasn't a real 1-story plan. It was never discussed by the staff panel like the 2-story, there was no back and forth to try to figure out if it was feasible and how the needs of the school would work with the 1-story plan as they were doing with the 2-story. There was a striking lack of description of what was being shown. There was no cost breakout. The staff simply saw all these boxes drawn in available space -- like smack in the center of the Quad -- and said no (as they were clearly intended to do).

The 1-story "plan" was inserted in the public agenda, though, and there was enough of a show to satisfy anyone who didn't want to look too hard. But no, there never was a legitimate effort to make a 1-story plan alternative.

I looked at how much open space would be saved with that 2-story building, by the way, and it was around 1% of the BUILDABLE acreage (not the overall total, just the buildable) at Gunn. Of course "no one" liked the sham 1-story plan, it was presented as filling in all the open space on campus, which is just ludicrous.

But more to the point, that's comparing structures for a school intended to take up to 2500 students either way. If Cubbereley were in the picture instead, we would be looking at a single-story building there for a school of smaller rather than larger enrollment. Spending the money on actual buildings instead of just the extra costs of building higher buildings to pack in more students.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

I attended several of the Gunn meetings, too, and I never saw any "ranters" as you call them. No discussion with the public was allowed, so there could hardly be an "ranting".

I did go to a meeting where several elderly members of the adjacent neighborhood were quite upset about the prospect of parking structures being built (which were never actually proposed), and about all the extra traffic in the neighborhood from hundreds more students at that campus. The high school administration already talks about the neighborhood access on Georgia as the "back entrance" of the school and encourages students to use it. (I believe the new plans count on this "back entrance" more than even now.)

But given that there was no discussion allowed, and no one I saw yelled or misbehaved, it would be disrespectful and manipulative to represent them as "ranters".


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Dear Parent,
Thank you for your post. Parents I talk to don't want mega sized schools either. The district is being downright negligent, I think, in not discussing this key issue and its ramifications with the community.

You said, " It was gross mismanagement to con us with two separate bonds to get basic upgrades done. "

I forgot about the previous. You might be interested to know that at one school board meeting I attended, it wasn't clear the costs of all the proposed improvements would be covered by this bond. Several administrators expressed the sentiment that the community was supportive of education and would basically shell out the money when it was needed in the future.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm

The two bonds, one for B for E, and the more recent bond, were voted on for upgrades. These upgrades have been necessary to update our facilities to 21st century modern facilities, without approval of these bonds there would have been no money to upgrade early 20th century buildings, in the case of Paly, and mid century pools, gyms and classrooms which badly needed upgrading.

In typical fashion, just like the library, we as voters were asked to approve bonds to upgrade facilities. We have never been asked if we want mega schools or if we want 5 libraries. The proponents of both bonds for the schools and the library bond, have taken the votes to mean that we are voting for bigger schools and 5 libraries. I don't think we did. I think we voted for better facilities. If we had voted no we would not have had any upgrades to facilties. We want upgraded facilities. We do not want bigger schools or 5 libraries.

Perhaps next time a bond will be written without hidden agendas of double approvals. But, then perhaps pigs will start flying too.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm

@Me Too,
I'm not sure what's happening here, but I posted to you above, and instead of my moniker, it posted under yours. (Maybe I inadvertently put your moniker in addressing it to you?)

Here's what I wrote in response to your post above:
I attended several of the Gunn meetings, too, and I never saw any "ranters" as you call them. No discussion with the public was allowed, so there could hardly be an "ranting".

I did go to a meeting where several elderly members of the adjacent neighborhood were quite upset about the prospect of parking structures being built (which were never actually proposed), and about all the extra traffic in the neighborhood from hundreds more students at that campus. The high school administration already talks about the neighborhood access on Georgia as the "back entrance" of the school and encourages students to use it. (I believe the new plans count on this "back entrance" more than even now.)

But given that there was no discussion allowed, and no one I saw yelled or misbehaved, it would be disrespectful and manipulative to represent them as "ranters".


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Parent,
Thanks for the insight, you've hit the nail on the head.

It seemed to me like this phase of constructions is so expensive, it's being planned with the idea that there will be yet another bond to the community before it's over. Isn't there any party monitoring this?


Posted by Parent 980, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

I have kids at PALY.
1. While the bond states purposes due to enrollment, the real issues are well overdo upgrades. If you walk through the campus...it is in horrible condition. The school likes like a "DUMP" before the construction stated. I can not believe that we accept our children going to such a run down school. What does this teach them about respect and dignity for themselves and others. The library is not a library, the main office tower is like nothing anyone can image. This is building desperately need painting. The grounds. The learning envirnoment is so important and without this bond, kids and caring families ...ask doesn't anyone care!! Throughout the country...a school environment such as PALY today would be only seen in the poorest areas of the country.

2. I know how much the PA families truly care about their Kids and education...we just need to band together as with the bond to show it. My concerns are the kids that must live through this building process. We need to do everything possible to complete the work faster than normal. If major commercial buildings can be constructed in months...let's band together to do the same for our high school students.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Parent 980,
You are right that the overdue upgrades are a huge issue in the bond. That's why you should be concerned about tens of MILLIONS being spent to get multistory buildings. That's EXTRA expense from the same square footage in single story, not extra money for extra space, it's extra money just because multistory costs more. Those are millions that could be spent on upgrades instead (while still getting the same square footage of new building). That first building going in at Gunn -- at least $3 million of it will be costs just associated with making it a two-story building. A single-story building could go up much faster, too.

Regarding your second concern: I can't help noting that if Cubbereley were part of the picture, the building at Gunn could happen faster and have far less impact on students. The multistory building takes longer to approve and build, too. If Cubbereley were part of the picture, the construction at Cubberley could take place away from the students, and the new buildings there could the be helpful while construction was happening at Gunn. (Actually, the construction at Gunn would be far less complicated anyway, if the enrollment at the site was going to go DOWN rather than up because of opening Cubberley. You wouldn't need that multistory building, for one, and could spend the money on improvements or other building needs.)

If you are concerned about the building impact, you should also be concerned about the long-term impact of the building. The plan is to spend the money in order to be able to pack hundreds more students on each of the campuses, even though research shows it's likely to hurt test scores, math achievement, the achievement gap, and other academic outcomes. Plus there's almost no way it won't make the social environment more stressful and less supportive.

I think we should be banding together to get the administrators to get off of one person's agenda in this building and talk to the parents about whether we really want these huge megaschools (which will also, by the way, be more lengthy and costly to approve and construct).


Posted by Parent14, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 26, 2010 at 9:46 am

I hope the best for our children. I am hopeful that the upgrades will greatly improve the learning environment at PALY. Here is an example of the quality of learning environment PAUSD is lacking...and this was only $93 MM for an entire new 21th century campus.
Web Link


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