Councilwoman pushes school board on Cubberley

Queries reflect mounting pressure on district to decide on preserving site for a third high school or other use

Palo Alto City Council member Nancy Shepherd Wednesday (Dec. 8) sharply questioned school district officials about their plans for the old Cubberley High School site, highlighting mounting pressure on a decades-old pact between the city and school district relating to the 35-acre property.

With tenants of the city-run Cubberley Community Center grumbling about maintenance and the major tenant -- Foothill College -- possibly planning to vacate, Shepherd said the city is "just trying to think creatively about how to keep the lights on."

Foothill's two recent bids to purchase and rebuild eight city-owned acres at Cubberley were rebuffed by city officials as they await guidance from the school district on its potential plans for the site.

Meanwhile, trustees of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District this week voted to hire a property consultant to help in the search for a permanent home for its satellite "Palo Alto Campus" based at Cubberley, which now serves nearly 3,000 students.

Shepherd said she would like greater clarity on school plans for the site so she can field questions from tenants and community members.

"Whatever information you guys want to reveal, it would be very helpful to me," she told school board members Camille Townsend and Dana Tom at a Wednesday-morning meeting of the City-School Liaison Committee.

Faced with steadily rising enrollment that shows no signs of slowing, school officials say they need to preserve their options on Cubberley. Recently, they also indicated an interest in acquiring the 3-acre Peninsula Day Care parcel at 525 San Antonio Ave., which abuts the rear property line of Greendell School adjacent to the Cubberley campus.

But they have been tight lipped about any specific plans.

In a June 16 meeting with the City Council and Foothill-De Anza trustees, school board members expressed deep-seated fears about selling any portion of the dilapidated property, which closed as a high school in 1979.

The Palo Alto district is keenly aware of the need for new classrooms to accommodate growth, but has no specific plan at this point, Tom said in response to Shepherd Wednesday.

"We haven't really explored a specific set of options for using that site, because there are a variety of ways we could use it," he said.

Basic maintenance on Cubberley will require at least $8 million between now and 2015, and the city has spent $6.7 million on Cubberley maintenance since 1996, City Manager Jim Keene said in the June meeting.

In a deal to preserve the site, the city pays the school district approximately $4 million a year to lease the campus and run it as a community center. The city took ownership of the 8-acre parcel within Cubberley in 2002 as a consequence of the school district's need to re-open Terman Middle School. The district reclaimed the site from its sale to the city and sublease to the Jewish Community Center, resulting in a sequence of events that culminated in the building of a new JCC complex along San Antonio Road.

The current city lease on Cubberley expires in 2014.

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2010 at 9:37 am

I suspect this is a ploy to actually get the board to make some plans because at present they have no fixed plan or agenda with Cubberley. Hope it works out well.

Like this comment
Posted by Watching
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm

It's a bit of a problem. The City will have paid well over $200M to the PAUSD for rent on this site by the time the contract comes to an end. The City has been collecting rent, so it is not out $200M+, but the PAUSD has not been banking this money, so that it will have a nice nest egg to build with, should something like that come to pass. It has recklessly put this money into the general fund, and raised salaries with this money.

The idea of opening another high school is worrisome to all. Certainly with over 1,000 non-residents in the school system, there has been little visible planning for how these people's exit could change the demand for high schools in the future. There is also the impact of distance learning, and a shift e-books, and other digital teaching methodologies that also would likely have some sort of impact that would reduce the need for these huge high schools that are so expensive.

One possible solution would be to cap the number of students in the PAUSD, and the overflow would be assigned to other districts.

Like this comment
Posted by Remember the Utility Tax
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Remember that the city agreed to send PAUSD revenue from the Utility tax when it was passed. That's where they get the money to pay the rent.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Dec 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm

The city and the school district (not to mention the state) are facing serious budget issues in the coming years. The finamcial crisis has been upon us for 3 years now, but most of the adjustments so far have been cosmetic.

Why deal with a serious issue on a timely basis when you can play ostrich and stick your head in the ground?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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