Reopening Garland Elementary is a top priority

Hundreds of expected new students means the Palo Alto school district needs to build new classrooms and reopen a 13th elementary school

Pushed by new housing, the Palo Alto Unified School District is likely to grow by 1,221 students in the next five years, the school board learned Monday.

Enrollment projections predict 471 additional elementary school students, 413 more middle school students and 437 additional high school students.

At an early afternoon meeting Monday (Dec. 15), the board focused on finding space for classrooms at elementary schools where enrollment already is up 200 students this year. The district plans to add one more portable to Ohlone Elementary School for the 2009-2010 year, according to Superintendent Kevin Skelly.

But reopening Garland Elementary School in 2010 was the big cost item of the meeting, within the context of reconfiguring attendance areas.

"We should go to our communities, with the goal of having boundaries set by 2009,"Skelly said.

Garland "in terms of supply and demand" led the top-three list for expansion of student capacity. Skelly did not present cost estimates for reopening the school, which he announced last Friday.

Second is Juana Briones Elementary School, where "not a whole lot of construction will happen, just reconfiguring," Skelly said.

Fairmeadow Elementary School ranked third in priority.

Briones has room for six classrooms, said Lisa Gelfand of Gelfand Partners Architects, who presented results from a capacity study done on the district's elementary schools.

At the next board meeting on Jan. 13, the board will discuss reopening Garland, the attendance-boundary plan, building space at Ohlone and staff recommendations on budget.

Martin Stone, now a member of the High School Task Force, said the Attendance Area Advisory Group was aware of increasing enrollment projections two years ago.

"We felt yields were too low," he said. "The community's recommendation at that time was to reopen a school."

School board members took the cautious approach and decided that the "trigger point" had not yet been reached to justify investing in a 13th elementary, and that the district should wait to see what enrollments did in the next year or two. Enrollment increases continued.

Despite apparent delays, the board is addressing the increasing enrollment demands and looking for more effective ways to project future enrollment.

But there was a cautionary note sounded about focusing too much on the near term.

"We're focusing a lot on 2013, when these bond funds are going to have to last until 2018. We need to be mindful if there is another influx of students between 2013-2018," board President Barbara Mitchell said.

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Like this comment
Posted by another member of HSTF
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2008 at 10:58 am

Minor correction - Although Martin Stone was a member of the High School Task Force, he no longer is as it was disbanded a year ago after making our recommendations to Dr Skelly and the BOE on Dec 18, 2007.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2008 at 5:09 pm

Even in this article, it states that the Board has not yet discussed reopening Garland as a 13th elementary school and will not vote on it yet. It seems that January will be the time we will really know what is going to happen.

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