Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 16, 2010

Ohlone Farm prepares for construction

Sheep, goats and garden will weather building of adjacent, two-story classroom structure

by Chris Kenrick

When kids head back to Ohlone Elementary School Aug. 24, they'll encounter their new teachers, the pigs, goats and chickens on the school's beloved farm — and a major construction site.

Work will begin on a new, two-story classroom building adjacent to the school's library and farm on ground that previously held portable classrooms used for after-school day care.

The new eco-friendly building, with 12 classrooms and a planted roof that will be accessible to students, should be ready for occupancy on Valentine's Day of 2012, school officials said.

"When we're finished we're going to have an exemplary building. Everybody's going to love the architecture and the green roof," the Palo Alto school district's Co-Chief Business Officer Robert Golton said.

"It's going to be educational and sustainable."

In the meantime, caretakers of the 15 chickens, two sheep, two goats and two beehives that occupy the Ohlone Farm are ready to take extra steps to protect their charges, if necessary.

"We're hoping the bees will live through the construction because they tend to be quite sensitive to construction noise and dirt," science teacher and farm coordinator Tanya Buxton said.

Buxton said farm managers and volunteers studied the architect's daylight and shade analysis to make sure the farm's garden and orchard area would continue to receive maximum sunlight.

The 25-year-old Ohlone Farm long has been a centerpiece of the school's "developmentally based" curriculum.

Each class spends at least 45 minutes a week on the farm, which, in addition to animals, contains a gazebo, special teaching area, greenhouse, orchard, vegetable garden and "butterfly garden" planted with lavender, cosmos, marigolds and petunias.

The 1-acre vegetable garden currently holds pumpkins, tomatoes, sunflowers, corn, squash and cucumbers. The orchard is planted with plum, apricot, apple, pear and fig trees.

Families volunteer to visit the animals each morning and to take them in and feed them each evening, on weekends and holidays.

The school holds a weekend workday each month to take care of more significant chores.

"It definitely takes the whole community to make it run," said Buxton, who oversees the farm along with garden coordinator Marieluise Fries.

Construction workers will use a service road that runs along the left-hand side of the campus to reach the worksite, which is at the back of the deep property. From the service road, construction vehicles probably will run either in front of, or behind, the school library to get to the site.

Last year's enrollment at Ohlone, which also houses the district's Mandarin Immersion Program, was 516 students.

The project will expand the school's capacity to 570 students, with no more need for portable classrooms except for the after-school day care program, Golton said.

During construction, students will be housed in portables that have been moved close to the main classroom building. The after-school day care portables will remain on the perimeter of campus, Golton said.

The $11.6 million authorization for the Ohlone Modernization Project, including an $8.8 million construction budget, comes from the $378 million facilities bond measure approved by 77.5 percent of school district voters in June 2008.

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

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