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Major changes in store for Paly, Gunn

Original post made on Sep 9, 2009

Architects presented "conceptual designs" for sweeping renovations at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools to the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday night. The plans include new, two story classroom buildings at both campuses and a new media arts building, career tech center and theater at Paly, as well as renovation of the Tower Building.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 1:50 PM

Comments (24)

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2009 at 2:59 pm

These look like very glamorous classroom buildings, no question about that. No objection there. One question: are they cost effective, a "good use of the money?"


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 9, 2009 at 3:36 pm

My one comment about this is that it is going to be sad for my kids whose memories of elementary school were being shoved from classroom to portable and back mid year and having construction working going on all the time due to B4E and their high school years are going to be walking around a campus with this going on. What wonderful school memories they will have - even if the campus looks great after they are gone.


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Paly parent, I am with you on this one. I had a child who had constant renovation at Jordan and Paly throughout her years there. My other child will have had elementary school and Paly renovation throughout.

One other thing that no one seems to worry about is all the dust caused by those projects that the students will have breathed and ingested. It can't be healthy to be around construction sites for so many years. Yet that's what our kids will have been exposed to.


Posted by ODB, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2009 at 9:06 pm

As if proof were needed: money grows on trees in Palo Alto.


Posted by Lois, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2009 at 9:26 pm

In the article in the PA Daily it was revealed that the building program at Paly included individual offices for each teacher but at Gunn teachers will have one room.

I don't think the voters of Palo Alto passed Measure A with the idea of spending bond money to provide each teacher with their own office; we approved bond funds to be spent on facilities for the children. This is a typical way institutions take advantage of the generosity of the tax paying public, and divert bond funds for their own use.


Posted by actually, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Palo Alto High teachers already have their own offices. Many of these teachers are 'teacher advisors' and assist in the role of counselor for their students. They need offices to meet with these students, parents, and fellow teachers. My daughter spent a lot of time meeting with her teacher advisor in her office and I was there a few times also.


Posted by Lois, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2009 at 9:57 am

Actually: I'm not convinced that every teacher needs their own individual office because in the same article is says: "Gunn teachers chose to have one large common office instead of individual rooms."

Clearly individual rooms are necessary for meeting with students, parents and other teachers, but obviously Gunn teachers do not find it necessary to waste taxpayers money to have their own individual offices.


Posted by Dean, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2009 at 10:36 am

I hope in this new construction they consider air conditioning, or other means to keep classrooms cool in hot weather. Unbelievably, when they built new classrooms at El Carmelo school at the beginning of B4E, the installed SINGLE PANE windows on west-facing classrooms, which of course are very poor insulators - those classrooms get hot. For a tiny additional cost they could have installed double pane windows and benefited from the insulating properties to keep out some of the heat.

And yes, like others here, a large portion of our kid's school time here in Palo Alto will be during construction, but there's not much you can do about that - the construction has to be done sometime - hopefully sooner than later.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 11:00 am

I know that the construction has to go on and that the mess is inevitable.

My point is that we were told before B4E the same thing and we were under the impression that this would last 20 years or so. Then as time passed and money got tighter, the schools that were later on the list and various other reasons stalled the project and many of the original plans were not put into fruition. As a result, we are now going through construction again and it is the same kids that are being affected.

I truly hope that the plans this time are going to last for the next 20 years minimum, that short cuts are not implemented and all the work does get done without excuses of money running out or the sky is falling. We need to get the work done and then be in a position to leave the schools alone without major construction for a minimum of 20 years. Let the next generation of schoolchildren get through their school careers without any major construction going on.


Posted by Mutti, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 10, 2009 at 11:42 am

Remember the grand plans for a new JLS when money was flush? Construction is cheap right now, but the costs will skyrocket when the economy gets back to normal. We'll spend 2 years planning, and then scrap it all for something more realistic. Been there, done that....


Posted by bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2009 at 2:05 pm

"They are intended to equip the campuses for the next 40 years,..." Is this from those who sold the need for the bond issue? And why is the minimum only 20 years?

There'll be lots of maintenance during those 20 or 40 years. Let's hope that is not an excuse for another bond issue!!


Posted by parent, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:21 pm

This article got it wrong about student body size. The new buildings are in order to accommodate projected growth of 2300 to 2500, not 2000.

This is something the community should be very concerned about, because there are serious negative consequences to learning and school quality from such large student body sizes. Going from 1800 students to 2000 is very different than going from 2000 to 2200. Did someone at the district level give the Weekly that 2000 number? Since board members haven't even been claiming that they will cap growth at the high schools at current enrollment numbers, it's reason to smell a rat.

Gunn already has 2000 students. If that was the limit of the projected growth, the district wouldn't be putting in these massive and costly two-story structures. (In public school construction, two-story buildings cost significantly more per square foot than single-story -- so much, the state document on what inflates school construction says it's not even worth building multistory to save land costs.)

That first two-story building will cost over $20 million, including the money to put the portables in the parking lot for the time it is under construction (and the district has given the community no idea of where all the cars will go, parking at Gunn is already tough).

A nice single-story building in place of the portables would cost far less than half that.

The district really should be doing a detailed analysis of what it would cost to renovate and open Cubberly instead. ertainly, some costs would be higher, but many would be lower. For comparison, in light not just of enrollment numbers, but also whether the community even wants these multistory urbanized megaschools. It seems Paly might, but Gunn is frankly the way it is because the community stepped in to stop multistory construction from the very start.

People mortgage themselves into oblivion to live here. Any step that spends so much of our money and has such significant impacts on education and the future character of our schools and neighborhoods should be more responsive to the community.

This is not a math textbook adoption. Skelley has demonstrated a complete disregard for the wishes of the community. I hope people who care about their kids' education and property values are listening.


Posted by parent, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:27 pm

"Remember the grand plans for a new JLS when money was flush? Construction is cheap right now, but the costs will skyrocket when the economy gets back to normal. We'll spend 2 years planning, and then scrap it all for something more realistic. Been there, done that...."

Arguments about construction being cheap now are only being made by people with an agenda trying to manipulate the argument. These multistory buildings will require additional reviews and approvals and other steps that will make the whole process slower. They also take longer to build.

If the district was serious about saving money, they'd be looking at whether they could renovate Cubberley faster and cheaper. Especially given the economy. (And they could buy back the land from the city right now at bargain basement prices -- read the text of Measure A, it's allowed.)


Posted by parent, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm

These multistory buildings use up so much funding up front, there isn't funding even now planned for some of the other phases of the construction that have been advertised in Weekly articles.

The Board is assuming the community will just pony up more when the time comes. I saw a televised meeting where someone said as much. These buildings have been planned like money grows on trees here.


Posted by Worried parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm

My children attended Palo Verde during construction, they move to JLS and the same thing. Now they are at Gunn, and the same thing. They really never got to enjoy the renovations of the schools because they graduated but they time they were finished. One think for sure is that they got to breath the small particles called asbestos. Most of old buildings contain asbestos and when they get disrupted they go into our children's lungs, and later might get cancer in the lungs. I do not think children should attend schools during reconstruction periods. The district knows about this, but I am wonder how do they get away with it and no one shows concerns. Too bad we only thing about making the schools better, but we do not stop to think about our kids. Many of they are allergic to dust and a lot of other things, and during construction periods their allergies worsen. Just a thought.


Posted by Jenny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

I am disappointed that my tax dollars are being used to build an Aquatic Center at Gunn and a Media Center at Paly. These are luxuries that should be built AFTER classroom construction throughout the school district is completed.

Right now four (4) portable classrooms have appeared at JLS to accommodate an expanding student body. Why aren't new classrooms being announced for the Middle Schools who obviously need them. Instead, we get a lavish Media Building with an Atrium, Cafe and Lounge for Paly and a luxurious Aquatic Center at Gunn for the few students who play water polo.

The School District is wasting our Measure A Bond monies in exactly the same way as they squandered the B4E bond funds. If they want the support of the residents of Palo Alto for a proposed new Parcel Tax, they should be more practical and build much needed classrooms at the Middle and Elementary Schools.


Posted by Jenny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

I am disappointed that my tax dollars are being used to build an Aquatic Center at Gunn and a Media Center at Paly. These are luxuries that should be built AFTER classroom construction throughout the school district is completed.

Right now four (4) portable classrooms have appeared at JLS to accommodate an expanding student body. Why aren't new classrooms being announced for the Middle Schools who obviously need them. Instead, we get a lavish Media Building with an Atrium, Cafe and Lounge for Paly and a luxurious Aquatic Center at Gunn for the few students who play water polo.

The School District is wasting our Measure A Bond monies in exactly the same way as they squandered the B4E bond funds. If they want the support of the residents of Palo Alto for a proposed new Parcel Tax, they should be more practical and build much needed classrooms at the Middle and Elementary Schools.


Posted by mom, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 11, 2009 at 9:51 am

A lesson for us all. We should never have approved a blank check of hundreds of millions of dollars. We should have demanded the district show us what it planned and what it would cost.


Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2009 at 11:05 am

Jenny and "mom,"

PAUSD is putting $50 million of the bond measure money into expanding capacity at JLS and Jordan and upgrading Terman. See Web Link
For more information check the PAUSD website and click on "Bond Program."


Posted by Timing is everything, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm

"I am disappointed that my tax dollars are being used to build an Aquatic Center at Gunn and a Media Center at Paly. These are luxuries that should be built AFTER classroom construction throughout the school district is completed."

The previous Gunn pool was a documented safety hazard that needed to be upgraded. True, while they were at it they made many improvements as well, but that only makes sense if they were going to do the construction anyways. As for the timing, the reason the pool went first was because all the architectural plans were already approved and ready to go (not to mention the fact that all of the design and planning had been paid for by donations).


Posted by IMHO, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2009 at 1:18 am

That's a lot of money, and it sure looks ugly and claustrophobic.


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 12, 2009 at 4:39 am

"The district really should be doing a detailed analysis of what it would cost to renovate and open Cubberly instead. Certainly, some costs would be higher, but many would be lower." It will cost Millions more in annual fixed costs just to run a third High School. Principals, Assistant Principals, Librarians, School Psychologists, Counselors, Janitors, pool service, maintenance and gardening staff etc.

Cubberley is now so run down and does not comply with modern earthquake standards or even modern building standards, it would have to be torn down and rebuilt. Do you really want to spend several hundred thousand dollars building a whole new high school? A new bond measure would have to be put to the voters if ever Cubberley were reopened as a school.


Posted by parent, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 15, 2009 at 1:40 am

"Do you really want to spend several hundred thousand dollars building a whole new high school? A new bond measure would have to be put to the voters if ever Cubberley were reopened as a school."

First of all, have you read Measure A? The way it was written, the board has discretion to buy land and reopen Cubberley if it needed to.

This is exactly the kind of off-the-cuff "reasoning" that I keep hearing, but NO ACTUAL NUMBERS.

You're throwing around numbers that you have absolutely no solid knowledge about -- and the sad thing is, so are people in the district. To be responsible, they should RUN THE ACTUAL NUMBERS, NOT JUST MAKE WILD ASSUMPTIONS LIKE YOU ARE MAKING.

The new construction at Gunn will spend over $20 million JUST ON ONE TWO-STORY BUILDING. Something like 10%-25% of that will be just the extra cost of building up, over the same square footage for a one-story building. (Multiply those extra costs by the six two-story structures being planned between the two high schools.)

Thats MILLIONS just so we can have a two-story building, in order to make our campuses warehouse-style megaschools, and you are asking whether I want to spend "several hundred thousand building a whole new high school?" You clearly have no handle on even order of magnitude costs for either building or operations -- or what's at stake here for our students -- but then, neither does anyone at the district, which is why the responsible thing would be for them to RUN THE NUMBERS and have a dialog with the community about what's at stake.

The bigger question is: do we want to spend the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS we have taxed ourselves to IMPROVE our schools and is already slated to be spent on Gunn and Paly, for ENLARGING those schools? Because making those schools larger is the overriding concern that is driving the expansion and the expensive decisions: to pack hundreds more students on those campuses.

Gunn already has 2000 students. There is MUCH educational research that says the large, warehouse school model is a bad idea for public high schools, that going over 2100 students does bad things for educational outcomes. There is even a "u-shaped" operations efficiency curve -- increasing size can bring about operation efficiencies, but at some point, growing a large school actually results in too many inefficiencies.

THE BOARD WILL BE VOTING ON THIS ISSUE NEXT WEEK. DO PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY REALIZE THAT THEIR DECISION WILL HAVE SUCH A HUGE IMPACT ON THE EDUCATIONAL DIRECTION OF OUR HIGH SCHOOLS FOR DECADES TO COME??

For everyone who complained about "the process" in recent controversies -- NOW is the time to take up this issue, not years from now when we have two large warehouse high schools in Palo Alto, quality and our reputation have suffered, a generation of our kids have had less access to the kind of education you moved to this town to give them -- and the Gunn campus is built up and urbanized with these megastructures. Isn't that tall classroom on Arastradero ugly enough for people? I've heard numerous complaints about it over the years, yet that's just a single-story structure. Imagine two much larger TWO-STORY structures towering over the campus behind it.

The district should be considering reopening Cubberley as a choice school in order to REDUCE the populations at Gunn and Paly back into the optimal range for a high school. Or at least, they should ASK the community what they want their money spent on! (And in order to do this, they should have clear numbers, not just wild guesses, prejudices, and agendas for comparison.)


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 15, 2009 at 9:23 am

If Cubberley is re-opened, how many students would be willing to move out of Gunn to attend Cubberley?


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