'Ohlone Way' will include major construction this fall

Sheep, goats and garden will weather building of adjacent, two-story classroom structure

When kids head back to Ohlone Elementary School Aug. 24, they'll encounter their new teachers, the sheep, goats and chickens on the school's beloved farm -- and a major construction site.

Work will begin on a new, two-story classroom building adjacent to the school's library and farm on ground that previously held portable classrooms used for after-school day care.

The new eco-friendly building, with 12 classrooms and a planted roof that will be accessible to students, should be ready for occupancy on Valentine's Day of 2012, school officials said.

"When we're finished we're going to have an exemplary building. Everybody's going to love the architecture and the green roof," the Palo Alto school district's Co-Chief Business Officer Robert Golton said.

"It's going to be educational and sustainable."

In the meantime, caretakers of the 15 chickens, two sheep, two goats and two beehives that occupy the Ohlone Farm are ready to take extra steps to protect their charges, if necessary.

"We're hoping the bees will live through the construction because they tend to be quite sensitive to construction noise and dirt," science teacher and farm coordinator Tanya Buxton said.

Buxton said farm managers and volunteers studied the architect's daylight and shade analysis to make sure the farm's garden and orchard area would continue to receive maximum sunlight.

The 25-year-old Ohlone Farm long has been a centerpiece of the school's "developmentally based" curriculum, which has been nicknamed "The Ohlone Way."

Each class spends at least 45 minutes a week on the farm, which, in addition to animals, contains a gazebo, special teaching area, greenhouse, orchard, vegetable garden and "butterfly garden" planted with lavender, cosmos, marigolds and petunias.

The 1-acre vegetable garden currently holds pumpkins, tomatoes, sunflowers, corn, squash and cucumbers. The orchard is planted with plum, apricot, apple, pear and fig trees.

Families volunteer to visit the animals each morning and to take them in and feed them each evening, on weekends and holidays.

The school holds a weekend workday each month to take care of more significant chores.

"It definitely takes the whole community to make it run," said Buxton, who oversees the farm along with garden coordinator Marieluise Fries.

Construction workers will use a service road that runs along the left-hand side of the campus to reach the worksite, which is at the back of the deep property. From the service road, construction vehicles probably will run either in front of, or behind, the school library to get to the site.

Last year's enrollment at Ohlone, which also houses the district's Mandarin Immersion Program, was 516 students.

The project will expand the school's capacity to 570 students, with no more need for portable classrooms except for the after-school day care program, Golton said.

During construction, students will be housed in portables that have been moved close to the main classroom building. The after-school day care portables will remain on the perimeter of campus, Golton said.

The $11.6 million authorization for the Ohlone Modernization Project, including an $8.8 million construction budget, comes from the $378 million facilities bond measure approved by 77.5 percent of school district voters in June 2008.

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Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Bailey Slone
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 19, 2010 at 11:31 am

Way to go are the best! My children will never forget the wonderful years spent at Ohlone. I look forward to seeing these new additions!

Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Pigs? Sheep, goats, chickens (12 at present), bees, but no pigs. The Ohlone farm is a truly wonderful resource for the school and the community - and it wouldn't be possible without the help of our volunteers!

Ohlone Farm Volunteer coordinator for 2010-2011

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2010 at 9:02 am

Thanks for pointing out the error. My notes said "sheep," but for some reason I wrote "pigs."

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:34 am

The farm may be a wonderful resource for Ohlone school, but not for the community as a whole. Any attempts for other schools to take kids there for field trips or any type of visit is always met with a firm "no" for various reasons. Ohlone tends to keep this farm for itself and see no reason to share with other "less fortunate" schools in the district.

Like this comment
Posted by a Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Parent, each school has the right and ability to make its own farm, garden, special nature education area. Most of the Palo Alto elementary schools have a gardening area; that's a fundamental part of the Montessori method that's become mainstream. If your school doesn't have a garden or farm, now's your chance to get one going! These great projects start with parents and students...

Like this comment
Posted by where will the children play
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 20, 2010 at 2:47 pm

"Parent, each school has the right and ability to make its own farm, garden, special nature education area. "

Of course, all Addison needs to do is remove several classrooms and they can put in a farm but where will all the bubble classes go?

Like this comment
Posted by One Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Maybe Addison could offer Ohlone a trade, say let Ohlone kids participate in their after school math program in exchange for visits by Addison kids to the farm. The problem with the Ohlone farm is that it is a fragile habitat, maintained by a lot of hard work by parents, with many a class project growing in the garden beds. To have kids visit from other schools, who can't participate in planting, maintaining, watching things develop might not be all that beneficial to them. A school with its own growing space can benefit the students in so many ways. What about a roof garden at Addison? Just saying. . .

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm

The Farm has hours--someone has to be there when it's used. (Do you really want goats running down Colorado?) In other words, it's open during school hours. At other times, it's closed except to the various volunteers and staff who take care of it.

The Farm manager has, however, shown the farm to staffers and parents from other schools who are interested in starting their own farm. I've heard, however, that while school gardens appeal, the sheer amount of maintenance and volunteering involved with animal care frightens would-be farmers at other schools.

Anyway, if you want to visit the Farm, come to the Harvest Festival in the Fall. For that matter, if you want to volunteer during a farm work day, I doubt you'd get turned away . . .

As for Addison's bubble classes--Ohlone's looking at 500-600 students, which will, ironically, severely strain the Farm's resources. Also, unfortunately, the construction is next to the Farm, which is less than ideal for the animals living there.

The real question is why, when we passed a $400 million bond, that we can't get another elementary and some sort of third high school open to relieve the insane overcrowding.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2010 at 8:26 pm

The whole ohlone way thing was great while Susan Charles was there-- now it is past its shelf date--MI has brought a whole new culture--as has changing times.
It was great while it lasted-- but times and culture have moved on

Like this comment
Posted by Michele
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 24, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I don't think the Ohlone Way is out of date - treating kids like kids is never out of date . . . they have plenty of time to take 7 AP classes a semester in high school. Let them hold a chicken or dig in the dirt when they are little.

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