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School district expresses fears on Cubberley

Original post made on Jun 17, 2010

Palo Alto school board members Wednesday expressed deep-seated fears about selling any portion of the dilapidated Cubberley Community Center, saying the school district may need space there to educate generations yet unborn.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 17, 2010, 9:52 AM

Comments (48)

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Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2010 at 11:59 am

Why 'generations yet unborn'? There is a need for an elementary school already..

Turn this facility into a middle school + high school for kids who need additional help / attention. This will reduce the class sizes and the overall composition of the existing schools. The kids who need additional help get buried under the over-achievers


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Posted by Jan
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

We thought Cubberly/Greendell could become a K-12 school back in the 1960's but nobody would even consider the possibility. Middle School/High School sounds like a reasonable idea, but I think Foothill College/High School is perhaps also good, I'm not familiar with "Middle College" although I know a couple of people who "did" that. Please, above all, think and consider all options!


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Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm

What did I tell you? The city of PA and its school district do not want to sell that property. They want to hold onto it and have a HUGE say in what is done on it.

Foothill needs to stop the nonsense of dealing with such whishy-washy sellers. They really don't want to sell, they want a long term lessee who will do exactly what they want done to the property (and not do anything they don't).

It's long since time to cut bait on this. Foothill needs to just move on and find a new satellite campus. It is just silliness to keep dealing with the city and school district. Let them find other buyers/lessees and let them be their problem.


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Posted by comment
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm

We need to make better use of buildings. Most sit idol/empty at least 12 hours of the day. Don't build more, lets be more efficient in usage with what exists now.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I don't understand why the city would even consider selling Cubberley. We desperately need the space for the community. Once it is gone it can never be replaced. I was amazed and disappointed that the PA Weekly came out with an editorial encouraging the city to sell this valuable resource.


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Posted by Need more information
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I wonder if Foothill ever considered the old Mayfield site at the corner of Alma and San Antonio where Toll Bros. proposed all that housing. Toll Bros. project appears to be on "forever hold" because of the economy. A college campus near a train station, stores, and bus lines would be great for young people.

If Foothill developed part of Cubberley on a VERY long-term lease (not purchase), it might be a nice addition to a future high school. It might be cool to have a Foothill campus accessible throughout the day to Gunn via VTA88 bus. I think it's too early to kill this, but they need to give serious consideration to all of the the existing programs using the current space. Cubberley is the most heavily used community center space in the city. These programs are in very high demand. It is important to keep them in Palo Alto. How do we do that with a Foothill development scenario?

School Board members, come on, get outside your tunnel vision---and really explore the possibilities. It's true. There are a lot of challenging problems here, but shutting the door at this early stage of the process is premature.


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Can someone with knowledge of PA history comment further on this sentence in the article? Which sites were shuttered and sold for housing?

"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."


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Posted by suprised
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I find this fear ironic given that the school board refused to reopen a high school at Cubberley because renovating the place would be too expensive, supposedly. Instead they decided to turn Gunn and Paly into mega-high schools...


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Posted by Need more high schools
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Why sell? when you are already at full capacity at Gunn and Paly, now is the time to open another high school so kids can connect and not get lost in the crowd. Teachers will see less kids, therefore will get to know them better, and they might ask for help when they are experiencing health, social or mental issues, instead or going to the tracks.
I do not know what is the school district waiting for, everyday there is another construction company adding more houses in Palo Alto, but the district does not add schools. There is money, and there is the building, but they are trying to save money at the expenses of our students lives.


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

@ Curious--

One of the sites was on East Meadow near Louis. There's a park on part of the land now, but new houses were built on the eastern part.


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Posted by JW
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 17, 2010 at 6:56 pm

It was pointed out on Wednesday evening that the City will not be able to maintain their support for Cubberley indefinitely, that's why they need to consider selling or long term leasing their 8 acres. Folks, this is about money and budgets!!

Curious says: "Which sites were shuttered and sold for housing?" Ross Road, De Anza, Ortega, Hoover (opposite Safeway) and one in North Palo Alto were sold off and developed. Ross Road and De Anza were only 5 acres each. Mayfield was replaced with Nixon.

Closed were Garland, Greendell, Ventura, Fremont Hills. All of which still exists and could be reclaimed by the School District. The PAUSD is not short of elementary school sites if they wanted to reopen them.


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Posted by Sam
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

The elementary schools were closed because of declining enrollment. The sites had to be either developed or guarded in some way 24/7 to minimize liability to the school district if someone was injured or killed on the property.

A student climbed over the pool fence at Cubberley and drowned forcing the pool to be filled in. The district realized they could not afford the maintenance and insurance costs on the unused sites and sold some of them.

It's easy to second guess and criticize the board - hind sight is always 20-20.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2010 at 7:39 pm

PAUSD really struggled with enrollment predictions, particularly in the 80s. Most of the closures were elementary schools (Garland, Crescent Park).

Jordan was a huge mistake. Closed completely in 1985, forcing all middle schoolers in town to go to JLS, it was reopened only six years later. During that same time, a proposal was floated to close Gunn and have all students go to Palo Alto.

The board didn't seem to have any grasp on future planning. With new membership every two years, I wonder if there is any institutional history to make a wise decision.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Curious: Terman was leased out for something like $1/year and then needed back by PAUSD and only returned with a struggle. There's a leased elem school site in Los Altos Hills that belongs to PAUSD, too. I understand there were more elem school sites that were totally sold off in past (before my time here).
It is clear that Cubberly is an excellent central high-value location for PAUSD. Foothill can have a satellite campus elsewhere.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

At the time of decreasing enrollments, the housing stock of Palo Alto was much smaller than it is now. With the ever increasing housing at Stanford and around town at present, the likelihood is that enrollment will increase. It is unlikely that people are moving to Palo Alto and then putting their kids into private schools although it may happen, but while the economy is in its present shape, it is possible that PAUSD is getting more students from that. However, since we have more housing that at the time of our highest enrollment figures, the likelihood is that the number of students is going to increase for the foreseeable future.


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Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2010 at 11:12 pm

@Need: the Mayfield site has never been under consideration because it is far larger than what Foothill needs and the seller never wanted to sub-divide the lot. They wanted to sell the whole thing to one buyer. And the city of MV preferred that, too, since it simplifies zoning and other decisions.

Foothill has always been interested in a long-term lease for Cubberley. The problem is the city of PA and PAUSD want too much of a say in how the property is developed and the ability to schedule the resulting new buildings. Basically, the city and PAUSD want to continue the current arrangement but for Foothill to pay for new buildings. That isn't an arrangement anyone in Foothill's position is going to enter into.

The thing is the city and PAUSD need Foothill but Foothill doesn't need them. The former don't have the money or political guts to renovate/develop that land; they want Foothill to take the heat from surrounding communities for any development plans while still retaining ownership of the land AND continuing to have great power in room/building scheduling. The worst case scenario for them is for Foothill to pull out of Cubberley, because it would force THEM to pay for it all, which they do not want to do.

On the other hand, Foothill won't find itself in a better situation to find other property to lease or buy and not have the wishy-washiness of the city of PA or PAUSD to deal with. The city and PAUSD have gone back and forth on Cubberley for SO long, every election changes their stance and goals... it's not worth the hassle for Foothill anymore.

I applaud the city of PA and PAUSD for sticking to their guns and continuing to drive a deal they want... even if they really don't know what it is they want and they want someone else to pay for that deal. But it's time for Foothill to cut bait and go find a new location for its satellite campus. This has been going on too long now, it's really better for everyone to find new dance partners.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm

I do not understand the hesitancy to work with Foothill. The district has been on a path to build at our high schools to make them bigger for larger enrollments -- at a virtually certain strain to educational quality and the social environment -- and they are spending all kinds of money building these taller buildings to do it (school multistory buildings cost a lot more per square foot to construct and maintain than one story -- this amounts to many millions just to have two-story buildings to house larger student populations).

Why not spend those millions on Cubberley instead? In conjunction with Foothill's money, there's enough to put up some nice new buildings. The Measure A bond language gives this leeway.

The district has been stubbornly pursuing this path of enlarging our existing campuses, despite all the many reasons that favor opening a third high school, ostensibly because of all the (poorly enumerated) barriers to reopening Cubberley. A partnership with Foothill brings down many of those barriers.

I'd like to see more than handwaving-worrying, I want to know what the district intends for our high schools. I want to see a real consideration of the options, and a reasonable analysis of the costs and benefits of the different options, no more specious arguments.

If all of the compelling circumstances and opportunities now still don't lend themselves to reopening Cubberley (or even specifically analyzing what it would take), I want to know specifically what will. Because if we'd never ACTUALLY open Cubberley no matter how compelling our reasons nor available the funds, we have no reason not to sell the small parcel to Foothill for the betterment of our community.

Letting this opportunity go because of a non-specific argument about not wanting to lose the option of reopening Cubberley -- when no one has bothered to even figure out what it would take to reopen Cubberley, when we have a bond that has been already passed that could help fund it yet the pros and cons have never been discussed with the public, we would still have a good-sized site despite the sale, we have a real need (because increasing the size of our existing high schools past 2000 kids each as planned is a real threat to quality, social interconnectedness, etc), going for this partnership could mean the difference between doing it and not -- I think it's just worse than silly to sit on the fence with non-specific worries.

Opening a third school site with Foothill could mean a campus that takes students from both Paly and Gunn areas, obviating the need to redraw boundaries yet giving administrators total control of enrollment at all three campuses, because good choice programs in this district always have more applicants than spaces.

The city approached the district about selling those 8 acres (cheap) to the district last year or the year before. The district apparently declined. What is it they are waiting for?


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Posted by Former member School Closure Committee
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 18, 2010 at 7:48 am

People who complain about the School District selling off old elementary schools are just plain wrong. It was the voters in 1978 who voted down a bond measure to refurbish schools. The message from the voters was loud and clear the School District has surplus schools they can sell to raise money.

Second, the District's insurance company ordered that the closed Schools be board up and a chain link fence be put round every closed school, after a kid drowned in the pool at Cubberley. So, there was an outcry from resident "I don't want to live near a boarded up/chain linked fenced school. Sell the school site.

You see it was the residents who forced the School District into selling the Schools. However, the District still to-day has access to Garland, Greendell, Ventura and Fremont Hills, because tenants were found for those schools.


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Posted by JW
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

People who complain about the School District selling off old elementary schools are just plain wrong. It was the voters in 1978 who voted down a bond measure to refurbish schools. The message from the voters was loud and clear the School District has surplus schools they can sell to raise money.

Second, the District's insurance company ordered that the closed Schools be board up and a chain link fence be put round every closed school, after a kid drowned in the pool at Cubberley. So, there was an outcry from resident "I don't want to live near a boarded up/chain linked fenced school. Sell the school site.

You see it was the residents who forced the School District into selling the Schools. However, the District still to-day has access to Garland, Greendell, Ventura and Fremont Hills, because tenants were found for those schools.


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Posted by JW
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

People who complain about the School District selling off old elementary schools are just plain wrong. It was the voters in 1978 who voted down a bond measure to refurbish schools. The message from the voters was loud and clear the School District has surplus schools they can sell to raise money.

Second, the District's insurance company ordered that the closed Schools be board up and a chain link fence be put round every closed school, after a kid drowned in the pool at Cubberley. So, there was an outcry from resident "I don't want to live near a boarded up/chain linked fenced school. Sell the school site.

You see it was the residents who forced the School District into selling the Schools. However, the District still to-day has access to Garland, Greendell, Ventura and Fremont Hills, because tenants were found for those schools.


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Posted by Sam
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2010 at 8:10 am

Observer. It is cheaper per square foot to build a multistory school or building than a single story one. Smaller footprint, one roof, shorter service lines for water, electricity and phone service, etc. Why do you think the developers opt for multi-story condominiums?

As Mayor Burt and others said, they went to multi-story schools for el-hi, as did I. Seems to have served them well.

It would be less expensive to have Foothill pay for development and maintenance than PAUSD build a campus on the site. The present bond money just approved is far too little to refurbish existing schools and scrape and rebuild on the Cubberley site. Rebuilding from scratch is necessary for seismic safety reasons as well as getting rid of a badly deteriorated facility which has asbestos and lead paint to deal with.


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Posted by JW
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 18, 2010 at 8:12 am

Sorry the mouse broke.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 18, 2010 at 9:19 am

The bond for our schools is not just about enlarging them for enrollment. It is also about bringing them up to earthquake codes and bringing the buildings up to the quality you would expect in this district. There are classrooms at Jordan that are too hot to teach and learn in, the theater at Paly is a disgrace. The Tower building at Paly has peeling paint, broken windows and what looks like 1940's finishes inside...


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Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 10:30 am

@Observer: 'I do not understand the hesitancy to work with Foothill.'

It's not about Foothill. It could be any organization that wants to lease and improve that property, it just happens to be Foothill. The problem is that the city of PA and PAUSD want the character and use of the property to remain the same for its purposes but they want someone else to pay for it since they can't/won't write the check themselves.

When you want someone else to pick up the check for stuff YOU'D rather have exclusive use over, the hesitancy is going to be on the other side... the Foothill side. There isn't any hesitancy on the city/PAUSD to work with Foothill in particular. The hesitancy has always been that the city/PAUSD want to remain in control of the use of the property and every election cycle, the desire to move forward or back on such a deal changes.

Foothill is hesitant because they aren't going to pay for improvements to the property without having more say in how they get to use it. And who can blame them. Otherwise, they will simply stay with the arrangement as it is for as long as they can. But the condition of the buildings and the property has degraded so much over the years, that is just not going to be tenable for too much longer.

The city/PAUSD should be careful. They keep dragging this out and Foothill IS going to find another property and leave. You can bet they are already scouting other properties and making inquiries on the quiet. And you can bet they aren't going to give the city/PAUSD a lot of time or patience to come to an agreement when (not if) they find a different suitable property... if they bother to give that heads-up at all.

Don't underestimate the frustration Foothill has over all this. This has been going on for years and a deal is no closer than it was 15 years ago. With a real estate market VERY good for Foothill to strike a deal elsewhere, the city/PAUSD would be wise to stop screwing around and make a deal.


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Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 10:42 am

BTW, Foothill would have little interest in partnering up with any K-12 district for a mixed-enrollment, high school/community college satellite campus. They have their own 'Middle School' program already at the Los Altos Hills campus.

Think about this: if there was such an interest, they'd be doing it already at the Cubberley campus.

Foothill is not interested in running satellite high school campuses. They are interested in bringing high schoolers to the Los Altos Hills campus... and even that is not universally supported. There are a lot of Foothill faculty and staff that are not enamored with Middle College because they feel the district should be more focused on the adult students and their training/education. It's tolerated by many Foothill staff and faculty, not loved by a lot of them except the ones directly involved in it.

And PAUSD doesn't want a partnership with Foothill on that. Why would they give up the control and possibly the funding for students when like every district they need every dime they can get? It's not like any local school districts are highly touting or helping Middle College as it is. That should come as no surprise.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 11:39 am

Sam,
You wrote:
"Observer. It is cheaper per square foot to build a multistory school or building than a single story one. Smaller footprint, one roof, shorter service lines for water, electricity and phone service, etc. Why do you think the developers opt for multi-story condominiums?"

Sam, you are wrong. This is exactly why I am calling for people to stop making these specious arguments -- that sound good -- but aren't based in actual facts and numbers. We can't make these important decisions without looking at our priorities, goals, AND the facts. No one is looking at the facts.

The reason commercial developers opt for multi-story in commercial residential construction is that their equation is different than in school construction. For commercial developers their outlay is highest for purchased land, and they get the most money back by selling the highest square footage, so they are trying to maximize their return by putting the most square footage on the property.

If you were a single home owner, however, and you already owned the land outright, your greatest expense is labor, which is proportionately more for multistory. If that homeowner isn't trying to maximize their sales return, but is instead prioritizing reducing construction costs for a given square footage, it's actually cheaper per square foot construction and operation for that homeowner to put up a single-story structure.

So on that point alone: with our schools, we already own the land. Our primary costs are labor-related; labor costs for single-story construction are significantly lower for the same square foot. And it doesn't stop there. There are so many attendant costs with multistory school construction that it turns out not to be even worth it to build up to save land costs.

Here's a quote on the cost of multistory construction in schools from the State Allocation Boards systematic study on how to avoid huge costs in school construction from expensive mistakes based on poorly founded beliefs:

"Public School Construction: Cost Reduction Guidelines":
Section 7.1.6 : "In general, it is not cost effective to use multistory construction just to save land cost. The multistory construction cost is more expensive than one story, and generally there is not a significant reduction in land usage (and therefore cost) to offset the additional construction cost. "

One of the architects working on the Gunn construction admitted in a public meeting that multistory would cost more per square foot than single story. Using the number he quoted, just that first two-story building at Gunn will cost about $3 million more per square foot just to make it two stories.

Over the lifetime of a multistory building, maintenance costs will also be higher. Decommissioning the building will cost more. Repairing the building in the event of an earthquake will cost more and will more likely be in a non-habitable structure. Elevator inspection, energy, and maintenance costs must be factored in. Liability costs are higher as there are more accidents on stairs. (I went to a high school where teachers weren't allowed to take the stairs because of the liability and workman's comp.) Multistory will almost certainly necessitate A/C, a huge installation and energy cost. Multistory may mean the school structures are less usable or unusable in a community emergency (there is a fault line running under Gunn, after all). Seismic protection involves making the structure survivable for people, not perfect itself after an event.

The argument in favor of building up at our high schools has not been because of saving money, because it won't. The argument has been because the priority is taking on extra enrollment, but no one is taking on the bigger issue of whether that's a good way to spend our money. We voted for this tax to improve our schools. Given educational research, it's very likely that going larger will compromise academic outcome, or at least make the cost of similar outcome far higher than we are counting on. Going larger will have costs to social interconnectedness and a whole host of other negative social impacts from larger schools that we should be very concerned about, especially now.

The argument about building up seems to also hinge around hand-waving arguments about saving open space, but when if you run the actual numbers, the amount of open space saved on the Gunn campus is surprisingly small and just not worth the money. Maybe to some people it is worth any money to save any amount of open space, no matter how much remains, but the broader community deserves to know what this will cost and what they will be giving up in safety and educational outcomes as a result. Especially if we could be using those millions to reopen Cubberley.

(The circumstances are different on the Paly campus, where space is more constrained and building up is probably worth the extra costs for a few key buildings. I say probably, because a good design can sometimes obviate that trade-off, though perhaps not on that campus.)

My point again: We need to make these important decisions by looking at our priorities, goals, and the FACTS. We need to stop making unsupported statements and take a systematic look at what we need and how to do it. We need to do that NOW while this opportunity to partner with Foothill exists.



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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2010 at 11:40 am

Sam,

"It is cheaper per square foot to build a multistory school or building than a single story one."

What?

"Why do you think the developers opt for multi-story condominiums?"

I do not think you know what you're talking about.

A single story is always cheaper to build than a multilevel of the same square footage. Period. Developers cram as many units as they can, but given the cost of land, the footprint is limited, so there's only one way to go, and that's up.

But, if given the choice if you already have the land (i.e. sunk cost), a single level is always cheaper.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 11:44 am

Oops, I need to proofread my posts:
I wrote:
"One of the architects working on the Gunn construction admitted in a public meeting that multistory would cost more per square foot than single story. Using the number he quoted, just that first two-story building at Gunn will cost about $3 million more per square foot just to make it two stories."

I meant:
One of the architects working on the Gunn construction admitted in a public meeting that multistory would cost more per square foot than single story. USING THE NUMBER HE QUOTED, JUST THAT FIRST TWO-STORY BUILDING AT GUNN WILL COST ABOUT $3 MILLION MORE FOR THE SAME SQUARE FOOTAGE JUST TO MAKE IT TWO STORIES.

There are five or six multistory buildings planned, in order to enlarge those campuses, many millions of dollars just to build up. And what are we getting for that money? Extra large students bodies that studies show strain academic outcome and social environment.

We need to (finally) weigh the actual facts and take a fresh look at our goals given this opportunity with Foothill.


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2010 at 11:45 am

Or maybe I should say

"Yeah, what Observer said"


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

Palo Alto mom, you wrote:
"The bond for our schools is not just about enlarging them for enrollment. It is also about bringing them up to earthquake codes and bringing the buildings up to the quality you would expect in this district. There are classrooms at Jordan that are too hot to teach and learn in, the theater at Paly is a disgrace. The Tower building at Paly has peeling paint, broken windows and what looks like 1940's finishes inside..."

I am not disputing that the bond is for a lot of important things, I am only discussing the priorities and expenditures on the high schools. The priority, as understood by the architects from the board, is enlarging the high schools. Doing that by building multistory structures takes more money from the pot, and for what? Almost certainly making educational outcomes worse or far more expensive to maintain quality.

You and I are on the same side of this argument, I hope you see that. The pot of money is only so big. Are we spending money building up to enlarge the high schools, when we could be spending that money on necessary improvements instead? Or when we could be spending that money on reopening Cubberley? It's kind of important to consider whether or not we will ever reopen Cubberley when answering those questions.

No one is taking a hard look at the facts and numbers. Doing that gets the best for everyone, including those (like you and me) concerned with all of the improvements we need from Measure A funds.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

John the man,
I am in complete accord with everything you said. Please reread my post. I agree with what you said about the district's desire for "control" -- and that wouldn't be a bad thing if the way they went about it wasn't so knee-jerk and off the cuff.

We have to stop making these specious arguments, take a hard look at our priorities, goals, and the numbers. It could be a win-win, but no one will get there if we just keep allowing these unsupported and general arguments and don't hold anyone's feet to the fire over specifics.

This is potentially the answer to our problems. It will take some leadership to know. The lack of that thus far has been what I meant about the "hesitancy" to work with Foothill.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 12:12 pm

John the man, you wrote:
"And PAUSD doesn't want a partnership with Foothill on that. Why would they give up the control and possibly the funding for students when like every district they need every dime they can get?"

You make a good point, but it may or may not be correct when you get into specifics -- and I'll make the point again that no one has really gotten into those specifics.

If PAUSD partnered with Foothill on some joint high school/junior college venture, PAUSD benefits from the programs Foothill brings into the mix (and pays for). PAUSD benefits when it doesn't have to pay to enlarge the other two campuses to sizes the research shows compromises educational quality. PAUSD benefits from a special program that draws students, by their choice, from both Paly and Gunn enrollment areas, because then the district has total control over enrollment at all three locations. The district might benefit if a joint PAUSD/Foothill venture draws industry interest and support.

You make a really good point about whether such a partnership would affect state dollars for those students. Since we are basic aid, though, and don't get money on a per student basis, I'm not sure that's an issue. But it's another detail that should be looked at -- we can't make good decisions by guessing.


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Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Observer, so far you seem to be the only one who is making 'specious' arguments. You are making FAR more conjectures and guesses than anyone in this thread so far.

Are you the pot or the kettle?


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I appreciate the informed discussion. One aspect that I believe is being overlooked is the impact of a sale or lease of any part of Cubberley on the non-PAUSD Palo Alto community. Palo Alto is already short on soccer fields, softball fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, dance studios, art class sutdios, meeting rooms etc. If Cubberley is sold or leased to an outside group, the shortage will become worse. I understand it will take some funding to upgrade Cubberley, but I think that is do-able. I won't go off topic by mentioning what parts of the PA budget I would change. But I think Cubberley is a very unique, valuable asset that should be preserved for the use of PA citizens.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm

John the Man,
Exactly what is specious about asking that the interested parties stop making generalized, hand-waving arguments that sound good, and start looking specifically at our goals, priorities, actual facts and costs to decide what to do? What I have said or believe may or might not be important in the final calculation -- but we have to DO THE CALCULATION to know. There is a lot at stake here for our community and our kids.

Even the Weekly in its previous article on this issue, had to resort to using words along the lines of "some people guess that opening Cubberley will cost ____" -- when I challenged them to be specific on who had thrown out that number, they revised even the guess! And what specifics is that number based on? None. No one has really run the numbers on what it take to reopen Cubberley at all, under today's conditions no less, and given our current priorities and finances. I've heard handwaving estimates from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of millions. That doesn't exactly give us good information upon which to decide whether to open Cubberley, or whether a partnership with Foohill might give us the opportunity to do what we couldn't on our own.

I'm calling for people to stop arguing generalities, handwaving, and just plain wrong myths. What exactly is specious about that? You're just name calling now, and that isn't helpful. I'm not even sure what's gotten you in such a snit, I wasn't even disagreeing with you!

The only thing I was clarifying was that we are a basic aid district -- we don't get money from the state based on the number of students enrolled. You seemed to have misunderstood how the district gets its funds, but your post wasn't entirely clear, so my apologies if that's not what you meant. I don't see how my response would have caused offense.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Taxpayer,
Everything you say should be part of the discussion, but we may need the third high school for education. The tenants who moved in there knew they were renting a decommissioned school facility, and if that wasn't enough, everyone knows Terman community center was reverted to a school some years ago because of increasing enrollment pressures.

I wish you had been there for more of the discussions on the new Mitchell Park Library and community center. I voted for it thinking we were getting some of those facilities you mention that are in short supply. I thought we were building a whole new community center facility for this side of town. And it will be better than what we had, it's just that they took public input on the library side, but didn't in planning the community center side, so that the new facility was pretty much modeled after the old. I think it will be a great facility, but I would have liked to see as much done with the community center side as with the library (especially for the groups you mention at Cubberley now).


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Posted by los altos
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Don't sell the site! All you have to do is look at the predicament Los Altos School District finds itself in to see what can happen. A charter school is approved (by the county not the district) and the district is required to give it a spot even though there are no district-owned properties available. Now LASD may be forced to close a school because of the charter and give the site to the charter. Better to lease the site than be forced into a similar situation in the future.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

los altos,
The discussion isn't to sell the entire Cubberley site, it's to sell 8 acres out of 35, 8 acres that don't belong to the school district now, they belong to the City. The City offered to sell the 8 acres to the school district but the district turned them down. They seem to be asking the City to hang onto it in case the district ever needs it.

What do I think is optimal? PAUSD buying the 8 acres and restoring Cubberley as a choice high school. That's not on the table, nor has anyone run the numbers and trade offs for what it would cost for whatever options we might consider.

I think another great option is working with Foothill to have a joint campus.

What I see happening in discussions about these things so far is people making sweeping statements about why we can or can't do certain things without any basis in facts and actual costs.

Telling the City to hang onto a property so the district can keep its options open indefinitely is not a reasonable option.

If all of the compelling circumstances and opportunities now still don't lend themselves to reopening Cubberley (or even specifically analyzing what it would take), I want to know specifically what will. Because if we'd never ACTUALLY open Cubberley no matter how compelling our reasons nor available the funds, we have no reason not to sell the small parcel to Foothill for the betterment of our community.

If the district is never going to consider reopening Cubberley as a third school under any circumstances, they should at least consider the possibility of what could be accomplished by partnering with Foothill -- and for heaven's sake, RUN THE NUMBERS on the options to see what it would really take. Having Foothill putting a new building on part of the site that is accessible to high school students should Cubberley ever be reopened could be to everyone's benefit.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm

You do bring up a good point, though, Los Altos.

Here's a not-so-unlikely scenario:
The district continues on its current path and puts 2300 students at Paly and Gunn. Social problems worsen and overall academic performance slides. A group of parents gets fed up and starts a charter high school... (I say "not so unlikely" because I have already heard rumblings.)


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Posted by JW
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Sam says: "Is it cheaper per square foot to build a multistory school or building than a single story one?"

It is cheaper to build a single story building, but the physical structure is not the cost, it's the cost of the land. Therefore, it's cheaper to build a two story structure on half the land than build a single story building over twice the land area.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2010 at 9:16 pm

JW,
We are not buying the land where these multistory buildings are going up, we own that land already. We also aren't developers trying to make money, we're a school district trying to give our kids the best education in as economical a way as we can.

Please go back and read my longer explanation of this for Sam. The economics of building up make sense for commercial developers trying to make a profit on a property, where they have purchased the land and are trying to get the most money in return, therefore building as much square footage as the property will sustain (hence up). The economics make sense for the homeowner who wants to get the most return for selling the property if going over a certain square footage on the property puts the sale price in a different stratum.

The economics don't make sense for a homeowner who already owns the property and needs to build a good structure for the least amount of money. Then he'll get the most structure for the least amount of money by building the biggest single story he can, because the per square foot cost of single story is cheaper than multistory. A 2,000 square foot (living area) single story home costs less in price per square foot to build than a comparable quality 2,000 square foot (living area) multistory home.

The economics don't make sense for schools, because schools aren't trying to then sell the buildings for a profit. Our schools already own the land; thus their costs are entirely the costs of putting in the new building area. For the same square footage of new building, multistory construction of schools is so much more expensive per square foot, the State Allocation Board has determined it's almost never worth it to build up, even to save land costs.

You also don't save as much land area as you think. If you refer to the State Allocation Board document that I mention in my previous post, they discuss this issue. Schools have to be accessible so they must have elevator shafters, etc. You don't get half the footprint for a two story structure of the same square footage.

You do have to pay a lot more per square foot, so there are only a limited number of circumstances where it's worth it, none of which apply at Gunn. Maintenance costs are also higher, and there are a host of other attendant operating costs like mandatory elevator maintenance and inspection and increased liability costs. It's very unlikely the building won't need A/C, so there's a huge energy operating expense the other buildings currently don't have.

This is exactly why the State Allocation Board did the investigation and that report on reducing construction costs in public schools -- because people have wrong beliefs about what contributes to costs and when they don't pay attention to those things, it increases costs unnecessarily.

The architect for the Gunn project admitted in a public meeting that building two-story would cost more per square foot. But the priority given to them is to house more students. They still could have built single-story, but initially the decision to build up seemed based on not wanting to spread the campus out and make it harder for kids to get to class than it already is. (Turns out, later they stated that it would take kids longer to go to class with two-story. Oh well.)

The bigger issue is this: we're spending millions of dollars extra for the privilege of having multistory construction for the same square footage. The reason we are putting in all this extra space is to enlarge the campus to accept more students. There's a large body of research that says that's a bad idea, given the size of the student body we will have. There's also research indicating that it's a bad idea given our goal of improving rather than worsening important social factors such as interconnectedness (given recent tragedies).

People have been pushing that course because of handwaving about our not being able to reopen Cubberley, with nebulous arguments about cost, when those costs haven't even been looked at, and they haven't been compared to what we are spending just to get multistory for the same square foot. (Or what it would cost to add some of that square footage at Cubberley in single-story instead.) The district also hasn't discussed with the community the bigger issue of what this will likely mean for how educational outcomes and the social environment will be affected.

So again, my main point is this: We need to look at actual numbers and facts while trying to decide what to do. Then we wouldn't be having these silly arguments about what costs more and what we can get for it. We would know, and could look at how to get the most of what we want for the least amount of money. We should be doing that while we have this opportunity to partner with Foothill.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2010 at 8:00 am

I think the old argument that people moved here to get into Paly or Gunn and won't want to get into a third high school is something that is not so strong as it was a few years ago.

Many parents are worried about the emotional climate at both Gunn and Paly. They are worried about the academic stresses, the size v identity issues, the counsellors knowing the kids, and the kids getting lost in the system. Even those who value sports and arts are seeing their kids having so much competition to getting on teams or leads in productions that they feel their kids won't get a look in.

For these reasons, I see that many parents are willing to look into the idea of a third high school which has been the real biggie when it comes to reopening Cubberley. I think we are getting close to the time the community can put some pressure on the School Board to consider a third high school.

Much of the work being done at the two high schools are not for increased numbers, just for updating facilities. The Gunn pool, the Paly theatre, etc. need to be done. New classroom blocks can be added too, but we ought to be going slow here.

We need to put pressure on the Board to get some real numbers about the costs involved in opening a third high school. It has been done before in Palo Alto and although times have changed, I imagine there were similar arguments before it was done then.

Community pressure is the starting place. If we don't start putting the pressure on, getting organized into parent/community groups, getting petitions going, whatever it takes, to show the board that we mean business, then it won't happen. This Board has a history of listening to organized groups of parents much more than a multitude of

solo parents. Someone should step up to the plate and start the movement.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2010 at 10:16 am

Resident,
Good post. I wish the Weekly format allowed "reply" posts for a real back-and-forth. I especially agree with your last statement there. The problem is that it's really hard to rally people in early planning stages when getting everyone on the right path is most doable and least expensive. It takes a really strong, committed leadership to do. It's a lot easier to rally people when the damage has already been done and everyone is negatively affected (and often too late to affect optimal change).

You wrote:
"Much of the work being done at the two high schools are not for increased numbers, just for updating facilities. The Gunn pool, the Paly theatre, etc. need to be done. New classroom blocks can be added too, but we ought to be going slow here.

We need to put pressure on the Board to get some real numbers about the costs involved in opening a third high school. It has been done before in Palo Alto and although times have changed, I imagine there were similar arguments before it was done then."

I agree that there is a lot of work on the high schools outside of increasing enrollment sizes -- very necessary work, too -- but increasing space to accommodate increased enrollment is the stated planning priority (per the architect as reported to the board, for example). Given that building up will cost many millions for the six planned multistory buildings, enlarging the schools is also a spending priority. At Gunn at least, if enrollment did not have to increase (or could decrease), there would be no need to build up, that expense is purely the result of increasing enrollments. If enrollment at Paly could decrease, one wonders if they could reclaim some badly needed open space.

Could you please provide a link or resource where the costs to repair or rebuild Cubberley have been estimated before? I would really like to find one. I am in agreement with you that even if it was done in the past, things have changed -- however, I have been unsuccessful finding any info from the past. There was a high school task force charged with looking at reopening Cubberley, but they ultimately reported they didn't have the expertise and changed direction to look at the curriculum instead.

Regarding reopening a third high school: you may be right that the climate among parents has changed, but the idea of opening a third traditional high school is a non-starter with Skelley and most, if not all, of the board. He has stated publicly that dealing with redrawing the boundaries is a primary reason he doesn't want to deal with reopening Cubberley. I think the only realistic scenario for opening Cubberley is as a choice school of some kind, where kids from both areas can apply to go to Cubberley. Cubberley is conveniently situated between both areas anyway.

A choice school could work well with a Foothill partnership. I'd really like to see some "big picture" optimization and problem solving on this, using actual facts and numbers, to see how we can get what's best for our kids, because a lot is at stake, and now is the time.

In research review article "Class Size and School Size: Taking the Trade-Offs Seriously", Author D.N. Harris writes: "...there is good evidence that it would be optimal to make these schools [of more than 2,000 students] smaller." and "...the research on school size lends support to the idea of dividing extremely large schools." and "The BEST-CASE SCENARIO is found in a district that owns and can reopen older buildings that have been closed, but even such buildings are likely to require substantial repairs ... In most places, such changes would require passing a bond issue, which can take years to accomplish..." [emphasis mine]

We have already passed a bond issue that is written to include Cubbereley, if the board decides. We have spending priorities costing many millions of dollars for building larger and up that could be rerouted to a Cubberley project without impacting any of the improvements at the existing campuses at all. We have the potential for partnering with Foothill to share some of the facilities and operational expenses. We have experienced terrible tragedies in this community that necessitate our looking at how we can improve social environments; staying out of the "extremely large school" range is one avenue, for which there is much research support (both in terms of academic outcomes and social factors). We're going in the wrong direction to spend all this money to get into that extremely large school range. I don't want people to say, "what were they thinking?" only after our kids show the strain of it.




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Posted by senior
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

My kids are grown and I sure like the activities available at Cubberly. But I think what is best for this site is that it become a third high school. Our two high schools are too crowded and this leads to added stress. What would it cost to reopen this site as a high school?

I'm not adverse to selling a portion to Foothill (8 acres). But I think what voters need to know is a comparison chart for approx. three proposals.

Make it 1) keep the site and make it into a third high school
2) Foothill is allowed to purchase the 8 acres and develop and
3) The city and school district continue to hold it

Voters really can't know the best use until we see a chart listing some of the important factors for comparison.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

senior,
Amen to that!

The difficulty is, even if the district does take this tack, there are enough people with their own agendas that it would be critical to ensure an impartial analysis by people who are doing the analysis in the context of figuring out how to best get us what we want for our schools.

For example, what we do with Cubberley will make a lot of difference to how much it costs and how much money can be saved elsewhere to help pay for it.

A traditional third high school taking a third of the city's enrollment is a very different proposal than, say, an 800 student choice school with a junior college partnership. Someone with a bias against opening Cubberley could easily estimate the former (and without offsetting it by the cost savings of not having to build up on other campuses) to say that it's just too expensive.

Maybe we should first be saying, "This is what we want, now how do we get there from here with the resources we have?" We certainly should be making the comparisons you have proposed.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Since this thread is getting quiet, I just wanted to add that it's not okay for the district to just do nothing here. Our city is under fiscal strain and needs to do something with the Cubberley site which is in dire need of repair. The city can't be expected to spend huge amounts of money to repair just their 8 acres. The city now has an opportunity to sell that land to Foothill, which is as optimal a buyer as we could ever hope for if the district doesn't want it.

The school district can't expect the city to hang onto that property indefinitely just in case the district ever decides it wants it.

The choice as I see it is for the district to:
1) Buy the 8 acres at Cubberley with Measure A money, since Measure A does allow for this. Rent the property back to the city for the time being.

2) Sell the 8 acres to Foothill along with an educational partnership agreement, or even a construction partnership agreement, so the site can be used or partly used as a third choice high school program.

What's the alternative? Can the city sell the property to a commercial developer? If they are forbidden to do that from the Terman land swap agreement, again, it's unreasonable for the district to expect the city to hang onto the property indefinitely in case the district ever wants to use it.

If the city isn't forbidden to sell the property to anyone it wants, I think we really need to consider the undesirable alternative of a commercial tenant there and what it does to the potential usability of the other 27 acres, and either buy the 8 acres with Measure A money, or partner with Foothill and let them buy the 8 acres.


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Posted by Get real
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Has anyone considered the MASSIVE CHANGES coming in high school education? Does even one school board member know that 8 States have already approved qualified students to enter college in their junior year, full time? Do you know what that will mean when this coming trend gets to California, because it WILL, especially in the face of rather *permanent* decreases in tax revenues, going forward well past the next 10 years. Do you know what impact this will have on the need for *local* space at places like Foothill? Has anyone even taken the time to research what's happening in online learning, with groups like K12.com, and how blended learning may make the need for more space obsolete? Why don't we know this? Because we're still stuck in 19th century ideas about what education is. Because PAUSD, like the other 1000 districts in California have school boards populated by individuals who largely (with few exceptions) don't have a clue about macro-strategic horizons outside their districts (about large social and technology trends that impact education). Sure, they go to "education future" conferences, where the conferees all think just like they do. Education policy making at the Board and District administrative level is *way* too inbred. Add to that school district administrations that maintain 1950's style management techniques that use the word "innovation" as a cover for changing to a new textbook, or putting laptops in the classroom 10 years after every household has them. Get real. The *smartest* thing that could happen to Cubberley would be to turn it over to Foothill, and start negotiating with Foothill for new K11-K14 "early college" initiatives. Will that happen? I doubt it.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm

HI Get Real,
All valid comments. I don't know a lot about some of your specifics, but I am in complete agreement about the lack of analysis, problem solving, and lack of outcome-focused policymaking. The decisionmaking going into our current path has been ad hoc and really pretty poorly supported.

I could suggest the usual citizen involvement, but the board has really set in place a lot of rules and barriers that isolate and insulate its decisionmaking. School boards are by law fairly independent bodies, and they should be. But they shouldn't be insular. There should be a way for the community to impact policy when the community is very concerned, in a more clearly spelled out and official way than simply begging en masse (usually ineffective).

I'd really like to see the board adopt some clearcut rules for how the community can better effect change when there is a very strong feeling in the community that the board is handling a matter or policy in conflict with community values and wishes. It turns out that adopting such rules is within the board's power to do.

Please consider taking your insights and energy and working on such a change for our district and board. It shouldn't be easy for the community to change board policy, but it should be possible through clearcut procedure when there is sufficient support.


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