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Two-story classroom building at Duveneck to open next month

Original post made on Jul 18, 2014

Duveneck Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders will occupy a new, two-story classroom building and everybody will get a new library when students go back to school next month.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, July 18, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (35)

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Posted by PALY Bondpayor
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Now let me see, we recently got a quote of less than $2.5 M to build a luxury 7500 sq ft two story house with basement with high end finishes. Given that commercial construction is less expensive than high end residential, I'd like to know why each classroom cost almost $4 M. Anybody in the construction business can explain this to me?


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm

When the bond retirment costs are added--the the bill will come to just under $20M for this small building.

> Can anyone tell me what it is so expensive?

Great question. Can anyone tell us?


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Posted by Easy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Your math is wrong. Sounds like 11 million to build 10 classrooms.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 12:55 pm

So why wouldn't the Weekly provide us the net new square feet, so that we can see what the cost/sq. foot is?


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Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 20, 2014 at 1:01 pm

The two story building has a number of classrooms--the story didn't say how many. The smaller buildings also have multiple classrooms. At least two portables, usually 2 rooms each, were torn down. So, although the NET INCREASE was only THREE classrooms, a significant number of new classrooms were built to replace the old ones. Maybe Chris Kenrick will furnish the additional info in a follow up or post.

Maybe you just didn't read the story carefully enough, plus you didn't have the benefit of driving past Duveneck as the construction was happening. The two story building was steel-beam construction, nice and safe. Maybe you'd like to drive over, stop by, and count the classrooms yourself to see what the per classroom cost was.




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Posted by Construction
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2014 at 3:11 pm

According to a 2013 story in the Weekly, this is what was built at Duveneck:

New, 10,000-square-foot, two-story building with eight classrooms

New single-story kindergarten building with two classrooms

New, single-story three-classroom building

Renovation of existing classroom building into library

These buildings also include bathrooms.

Considering all this, the $11 million price tag seems more reasonable.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm

To broaden the perspective, this project is beautifully done considering
the amount of sq footage needed, in terms of siting, design, colors
and impact on the neighborhood.This is the exact opposite and quite a
contrast with just about everything else going on in this City and is a needed breath of fresh air in an otherwise dismal downward spiral which is destroying all the qualities and livability of the City.Thank the School District for its efforts here.


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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 20, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Public school construction costs more than home construction.

Additionally, it was deemed necessary to build up rather than open new schools by the previous administration. Multi-story construction in school construction has been deemed by the State Allocation Boards to be one of the most significant factors in high school construction costs. (They recommend against it even when you have to buy the land.) Again, this was a conscious choice by our previous administration and board.

Having said that, I hope the building was sited as well as the two-story building at JLS, which helped give the whole campus a kind of center it never had before. It was placed at the end of a large open space, and really gave the whole area a more "homey" feel.


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Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

I think the article's point is that, while yes you can count multiple classrooms, library, etc that are new construction, the NET gain is 3 classrooms (perhaps article did leave out a couple of bathrooms, but not the point).

The issue is the ridiculous price tag to visually "improve" a school and to only net 3 more classrooms. They've merely replaced most of the space with new and prettier to the tune of 11 million.

Here's the irony-- I can tell you that Duveneck's enrollment has DEcreased significantly in the past 5 years. To the point where they have gone from 4 classes per grade to now 3 for the past few years incoming classes. The students and parents have suffered through 16 months of disruptive, loud, messy construction that prevented children from playing on fields at recess for months. Months. And now more months.

All for what- a more "homey" feel? A more prestigious looking campus? It certainly isn't for needed space. The whole thing is a joke.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 7:14 pm

> Considering all this, the $11 million price tag seems more reasonable.

This is an opinion--which is OK. But what are the costs/sq. foot?

At 11M, and 10K sq. ft--the costs come to about #1100/sq. ft.

When the bond retirement costs are considered, the costs jump to anywhere from $1500 to $1700/sq. ft. (If there are any lawsuits involved, then the costs go up even more.)

Generally, Staff time is not considered in the costs--so the real costs are considerably higher, and generally unknownable due to the lack of transparency in the way the PAUSD runs its operation.

The links below offer some school construction costs/sq. foot around the US--

Web Link

> Considering all this, the $11 million price tag seems more reasonable.

Wonder if this poster would have considered the cost, no matter how how--as "reasonable"?

Web Link

At the bottom of this link one can find construction cost data from the CA Dept. of Education:

Web Link

It would seem, from looking at the construction costs offered via these links, that the cost/sq. foot for this school is about 4X the CA and national average.




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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Repost/Clean up--

> Considering all this, the $11 million price tag seems more reasonable.

This is an opinion--which is OK. But what are the costs/sq. foot?

At $11M, and 10K sq. ft--the costs come to about $1100/sq. ft.

When the bond retirement costs are considered, the costs jump to anywhere from $1500 to $1700/sq. ft. (If there are any lawsuits involved, then the costs go up even more.)

Generally, Staff time is not considered in the costs--so the real costs are considerably higher, and generally unknowable due to the lack of transparency in the way the PAUSD runs its operation.

The links below offer some school construction costs/sq. foot around the US--

Web Link

Web Link

At the bottom of this link one can find construction cost data from the CA Dept. of Education:

Web Link

It would seem, from looking at the construction costs offered via these links, that the cost/sq. foot for this school is about 4X the CA and national average.

> Considering all this, the $11 million price tag seems more reasonable.

Wonder if this poster would have considered the cost, no matter how--as "reasonable"?


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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 20, 2014 at 9:03 pm

The die is cast. I was all by myself advocating with the administration during the planning stages that we could build our entire roster of school facilities as brand new and reopen Cubberly if we used our money wisely, such as building single -story. I was talking to the hand on one side and the air on the other. I also pointed out to the district that they needed to make more of an effort to involve the public that would only really understand when it was too late. Can't do anything about it now, just trying to look on the bright side.


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Posted by PALY Bondpayor
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 20, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Thanks for everyone clarifying the details as the story did not talk about the full scope of the project. That notwithstanding, it is about $1 Million per classroom.

The two story building has a number of classrooms--the story didn't say how many. The smaller buildings also have multiple classrooms. At least two portables, usually 2 rooms each, were torn down. So, although the NET INCREASE was only THREE classrooms, a significant number of new classrooms were built to replace the old ones. Maybe Chris Kenrick will furnish the additional info in a follow up or post.

Maybe you just didn't read the story carefully enough, plus you didn't have the benefit of driving past Duveneck as the construction was happening. The two story building was steel-beam construction, nice and safe. Maybe you'd like to drive over, stop by, and count the classrooms yourself to see what the per classroom cost was.

So still, what is a classroom? 700 sq ft? one bathroom, no kitchen? why is this costing more than twice that for luxury high-end residential construction with granite, natural stone, wainscoting and all the other McMansion doodads?

I can get 2500 sq ft house built for less than $750,000, seems like the Mitchel Library crew was assigned this project.

As for nice and safe steel beams, I would think that sort of construction is much less expensive per square foot than wood framing, as the beams can span great distances and do not require so much labor to install as 2x4 framing. Most of the cost is in the finishes which classrooms do not employ.


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Posted by Ask someone who knows
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 20, 2014 at 9:52 pm

PALY Bondpayer,

School construction is NOT less expensive than home construction. Steel beam construction is substantially more expensive than wood framing - if it weren't your house would use steel beam construction. Your house uses wood framing because it's less expensive and meets the standards of residential construction. School buildings are considered to be earthquake shelters by the state and designs must be improved by the Division of State Architects. The seismic standards for school construction are much higher than residential or even typical commercial construction. Schools must also meet all accessibility requirements - something you don't have to worry about. Does your two story home have an elevator?

A typical elementary classroom is 1100 square feet, not 700 square feet. The size of a small home, all in one room.

Schools must have much more sophisticated electrical systems. Is your home wired to support several hundred computers? Do you have an automated clock and bell system in your house? All of these things add up.

Also, finishes are more expensive because they must stand up to more wear and tear. Everything from carpets to doors are higher quality. I know they don't LOOK that way because they're not as pretty, but try putting the pretty carpet from your house in a classroom and see how long it lasts.

Is the specific price tag for Duveneck the best it could be? Probably, since the school selected the low bidder to do the job. Unless you think that the most qualified companies didn't bid or the bidders rigged the price, the school got the best deal possible.

Next time ask someone who knows about school construction rather than throwing out wild assumptions based on your experience having an expensive home built.


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Posted by PALY Bondpayor
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 20, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Ok, "ASK" If you read my original post I did ask people to correct me. However, $1000 per sq foot just seems outrageous so I ask you to humor me and forgive my skepticism.

I did check the per square construction costs for hospitals in San Francisco, and I will admit that costs can vary a lot, especially for smaller projects But... the going rate is less than $340 per square foot for a medium sized hospital in seismically active San Francisco. I understand that a 10,000 -15,000 sq foot project maybe be more per sq foot, but still 3x that of the cost to build a hospital building with its high systems cost????

Web Link

I don't know what the process is for getting bids, but I was trying to work backwards. If the resulting costs are $1000 per square foot then it begs the question of whether the system used for obtaining contracts is effective.

Again, welcome to correct me if I'm wrong.


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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 20, 2014 at 10:59 pm

@Paly bondpayer,

You make a good point. When you are coming up with $1000 per square foot, are you factoring in the cost of the land in both, or just in SF, because we didn't have to buy the land in PA.

I agree, it seems really high. Compared to the cost of school construction in even high cost parts of California. And we were told the district wanted to get everything done during a time when labor was low because the economy was depressed.

Again, I did try to say something, went to board meetings to suggest we look at what we could buy if we went single-story instead. Here's a California state document all about Reducing Costs in Public School Construction, which might help generally explain why our building cost so much:
Web Link

"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. "

The architect at Gunn said the per-square-foot extra cost of multi-story square footage was at least 15% more, but given what the state document says, it's probably more than that. We spent how much of our bond just on multi-story construction? (Not on the new square footage, just on building up?) i tried to point out that we may even have been able to rebuild Cubberley just on what we could save by going single-story. LIke I said, I was talking to the hand on one side and air on the other.

But even with that, you're right, I don't see why it costs so much.





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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2014 at 9:13 am

From what we could see locally, from time to time as nearby locals as the construction progressed, it appeared this project was well-managed and a significant improvement/addition to this elementary school.
I can recall other district school improvement projects having snags, like at JLS, but this one looks to be high quality. As was posted by another, schools must be constructed to higher standards for quake safety, etc. You would want this for small children...so I don't begrudge it here.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:36 am

This approach to selecting the lowest bidder is fraught with problems—particularly if the specifications for the building are not that clear, or have problems themselves. (Think Mitchell Park, for a start).

The PAUSD has demonstrated very poor skills in managing construction projects in the past. For about a decade now, they have outsourced this management to a private concern—with the byproduct that very little transparency has emerged from this process.

The lowest bidder does not necessarily mean that the estimates are correct, or that the building can be built for the estimates, or that the price isn't inflated. Suppose the lowest bidder had come in with an estimate of $20M? Would the PAUSD taken that offer—even though the costs might end up being 8X more than the CA average?

One would like to believe that the PAUSD contracted with an architect that produced a good design, and also included a reasonable cost/sq. foot to construct this design—so that the PAUSD had some good data with which to consider the bids it receives. If the architect's numbers are not convincing, then the cost of a construction consultant would be worth the money to help the District through this decision process.

How many people believe that anyone with an PhD in Education has the slightest idea how to scope/cost a construction project? And then there are the five amateurs on the Board of Education. How many believe that any of them have a clue?

Maybe there are reasons for this seemingly high price—but unless it turns out that the building were located on quicksand—there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on the table for the taxpayers to use to understand if this project cost is appropriate, or not.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:45 am

I totally agree with Bob, however this reflects ALL government. This is the world we busy taxpayers live in with every-growing government. I, for one, attempt to learn and to contact my government officials, but I rarely get info or responses - we are thought of as a never-ending source of dollars. Look at the US Congress! Look at the California State Legislature. Look at the City of Palo Alto.
From Obama's sudden recent request for 3.4B or whatever the figure was "for the children" (as in, the illegal immingrants currently flooding across the United Stated southern border), and God knows how that figure was hurriedly contrived, to X millions per mile for re-construction of Highway 101, we taxpayers are fully captive to stated costs...according to government. I do NOT have a high confidence that these figures are not doctored and padded, include obviously high union wages and extra hours, overtime, whatever luxuries can be thrown in. I seriously doubt the figures reflect actual costs meaning time + materials in ANY sensible way...so different from the biz world.


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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:59 am

I don't know about you all, but I was involved in looking at the info they gave to the public, and those costs were already unusually high in bid. The choice of doing things that dramatically increase school construction costs like multistory construction were approved by our board with very little public outcry. They did not ask that we do the kinds of cost-saving measures we would have had to at least investigate had we been getting public state funds. I hate to put it this way,but you had your chance.

While I may be a critic of the cost, I do not think the project at JLS was mismanaged. I'm not sure why the one at Gunn had to be so ugly, it feels like an ugly institution and was already cracking concrete when new, but the work at JLS is quite nice.


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Posted by JLS Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Well, let me qualify that, the NEW work at JLS is quite nice. The older buildings were in no way brought to a standard that could be considered like-new, as promised in the bond for renovated spaces. The hardscape is nice, though.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 2:51 pm

What do you get when you fail to read or out-right ignore all of the points of a building program, stir in some "no idea what the campus was like" before the construction, and then some "expert" opinions? This thread.

From the PAUSD website:

Duveneck Project Overview

The Strong Schools Bond project will remove the existing portable classrooms and replace them with a new two-story building and two single story classroom buildings. The new classroom buildings will increase capacity by 3 classrooms, increase the library space and create a flex room. Also, existing classrooms will be modernized including upgraded lighting, improved ventilation and upgraded cabinets.

So yes, capacity went up by 3 classrooms, but all of the critics fail to acknowledge that the project also included replacing 7 (seven) portable classrooms. So the reality is that 10 classrooms (3 buildings, two single-story) were built. The two-story classroom project was the last of three classroom projects on the site.

Other projects: library expansion and new flex room. And all of the existing classrooms (approx. 14) received electrical and HVAC replacements or upgrades.

The other benefits not listed - new playground equipment and regaining lost field space due to all of the portables that had taken up the field.

I'm not going to waste my time doing the math. But I would suggest that the calculations above do not accurately reflect the costs of constructing 10 classrooms, let alone the expansion, remodel and HVAC/electrical upgrades.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 2:55 pm

And don't forget the costs of re-configuring and installing new landscape materials, hardscaping, as well as irrigation, plumbing, new sewers, upgraded electrical capacity for the site.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm

I hope the kids get to enjoy their new school surroundings and I see 2 story schools being the future for the area. Yes single story be cheaper but going out and buying open land that is now in the past.

Next school?


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2014 at 10:40 am

The sidewalk superintendents in this thread seem very unhappy that PAUSD didn't structure the bidding process so it would have to pay the builder only for the net gain in classrooms.


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Posted by Ah For the Good Old Days
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2014 at 11:38 am

Back in the "good old days" when schools in Palo Alto had lots more open space childhood was a better time to grow and be nurtured to adulthood. We didn't even have MP Rooms until well into the 50's. Those were the days before someone in their infinite wisdom decided that Palo Altans would never again be spawning more children that would need schools to be educated in. Thus the selling off of our precious schools (Crescent Park was among them....I forget the rest). What were they thinking?

This is why our children are warehoused in overgrown test score factories where it seems the ultimate goal of our parents is to create more future Ivy Leaguers from Palo Alto. Gosh, I sure long for the good old days when childhood wasn't a "sentence" and we cared more about the social-emotional needs of our students. Being in today's "institutions of lower learning" could really influence the way our young ones view educaiton.

These monster buildings remind me of penal institutions.


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Posted by GordonKShort
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Mainly what I see is a neighborhood school transformed into an urban school. A loss to Palo Alto.


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Posted by Old Duveneck Alumna
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I'm glad that the kids will soon be getting back most of their field for play space! The times I've driven by in recent years so much of it had been taken over by portables, leaving kids with little room to run around.


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Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

The kids had loads of space to play and run in-- up until this construction project started. Something noticed by anyone I've spoken with that actually used the field and school.


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Posted by Ugly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm

The new building at Jordan is ugly. The zig zag roof line of the building is hideous. The new Duvenack building is ugly, too. Another unappealing, flat roofline. All the new buildings in Palo Alto have flat roofs. That style of architecture might be popular today, but in ten years the buildings will be even more unattractive than they are today.


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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm

@Garret,
Read that link to the state doc on why schools cost so much. They say two story school construction doesnt save that much land as people think and provide ways to calculate. They say a way to come up with cheaper is to design a one-story alternative and compare. With the cost savings, for example, could other one-sory building have been redone to reclaim the marginal space savings of two-story for far less money? We don't know, the district never did this.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm

I'm neutral on the schools' flat roofs. But if you would at least look at the pre-existing buildings at Duveneck, then you would see that the school had a pre-existing style of flat roofs. It wouldn't make sense to go off and bring in an unrelated style.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm

PAUSD sold a bunch of school property off, very short sighted and was a bad idea but this is the past. In the long term they should have found ways to keep the school, leased sites to tenants, lease sites to the city with or without buildings.

Anything over 1 story costs more but going on buying open land for schools will cost more. Time to think 2 story buildings, lots of communities have 2 story school buildings. Not all sites will need 2 story building, you could get by with a compact 1 story school building. Hire a architect, do some cost studies and allow building changes down the road.


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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 31, 2014 at 7:35 am

@Garrett,lthat's exactly what the state document says. You don't save nearly as much land going two story, especially in school construction, as people think, and multistory costs so much more, it's worth making an alternative one-story plan to compare. We could probably have gotten a whole new single story school if the entire thing were just redesigned and built new, for the money. You use space better when building for the requirements today rather than being in add-on mode.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 31, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

If you acknowledge that you would have to take away field space to expand JLS versus building up, what is the greater cost when you consider the loss of field/playing space?


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