Palo Alto school building boom biggest since the 1950s
Results of $378 million bond measure visible after four years of planning
In the midst of its biggest building boom since the 1950s, the Palo Alto school district is modernizing and adding space to its 17 campuses across the city.
Visible construction sites — from Gunn High School in the south to Duveneck Elementary School in the north — are the product of four years of architectural planning and state bureaucratic approvals since 2008, when Palo Alto school district voters decisively approved the $378 million "Strong Schools" facilities bond measure.
Six campuses — both high schools, all three middle schools and Fairmeadow Elementary School — opened the school year with hardhat zones. At Duveneck, portable classrooms have been moved to make way for groundbreaking on a new, two-story classroom building in early 2013.
About half the bond money — $184 million — already has been spent on or committed to projects that are under construction, according to Bob Golton, the district's facilities and bond program manager.
The rest is in reserve, currently allocated to Gunn and Palo Alto high schools as well as to construction of a new elementary school or rehabilitation of an existing elementary campus now leased to a third party, such as Garland School at 870 N. California Ave.
No funds have been allocated for a fourth middle school, for which the school district said this week it is seeking a venue.
School officials also say there will be a need for a 13th elementary school in the next five years.
Less clear is where the new schools will be located, but there are a variety of possibilities.
Rather than settling immediately on existing district inventory, Superintendent Kevin Skelly says he prefers to scour the community for another possible middle school venue.
The lease of Garland to the independent Stratford School expires in June 2014.
The district recently spent $8.5 million to buy 2.6 acres at 525 San Antonio Road, which backs up to Greendell School, which is contiguous with the district-owned Cubberley Community Center.
The 525 San Antonio property has been leased for two years to the startup Athena School for children with dyslexia.
School officials say that — at least in the short term — they want to continue leasing the old Cubberley High School property to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center. The district relies on the $7 million-a-year lease income.
However in the long term, school officials say they may need Cubberley, either for a comprehensive high school or other educational purposes. The Cubberley lease is up for renewal in 2014.
The school district also owns the old Fremont Hills Elementary School campus in Los Altos Hills, currently leased to Pinewood School.
A recent surge in enrollment has shown no sign of slowing down. Officials are projecting growth of about 2 percent a year but stress that demographic predictions beyond about five years are not reliable.
Palo Alto had three comprehensive high schools, three middle schools and 22 elementary schools when enrollment was at its historic high of 15,000 in 1968.
Headcount had dropped by half — to 7,500 — in 1989, when it started on a steady upward trajectory.
Last fall, district-wide enrollment stood at 12,286. This year's official tally will be taken in September.
Staff writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at email@example.com.