Big Palo Alto school projects to take shape

Summer groundbreaking for two-story buildings, gym, media center at Gunn, Paly

Some of the biggest yields from a 2008 Palo Alto school-bond election will take shape soon as construction begins on $77.6 million worth of projects at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

Summer groundbreaking is expected at Gunn for a new gym as well as for a two-story math and English building. At Paly, construction will start on a new media arts center and a two-story math and social studies building.

All four buildings are slated for occupancy by 2013.

In a smaller but related project with quicker impact, air conditioning will be installed in many Gunn classrooms over the summer and should be nearly or fully operational by fall.

The summer groundbreakings represent about one-fifth of the spending under the $378 million facilities bond, which was backed by 77.5 percent of school-district voters in June 2008.

The stated goal of the measure was to "expand, upgrade and improve" all 17 of the district's campuses, extending their useful lives and accommodating enrollment growth.

Measured against today's enrollment, the facilities bond will create capacity for a 16 percent boost in elementary enrollment, a 9 percent increase in middle school enrollment and a nearly 26 percent rise in high school enrollment, according to target numbers provided by the school district.

The massive program of more than 30 individual projects has been planned and managed by site-based committees of parents and staff in collaboration with school-district officials, architects and building contractors.

The school district's co-chief business official, Bob Golton, is the major coordinator. The entire bond program is overseen by a Citizens' Oversight Committee, which issues annual reports.

Aside from the high schools, major construction has occurred or is planned for all three middle school campuses as well as for Ohlone, Fairmeadow and Duveneck elementary schools.

New, two-story classroom buildings -- almost unheard of in Palo Alto until now -- are a major feature of the bond projects.

Such a building is midway through construction at Ohlone -- slated for occupancy in January -- and also is planned for Fairmeadow, Duveneck and JLS Middle School, as well as the two high schools.

Beyond that, Superintendent Kevin Skelly next month is expected to propose locations for an additional 30 new elementary classrooms across the district.

Palo Alto has experienced an unexpected boom in elementary-age enrollment in the past two years that many believe could continue.

Skelly has said the district must prepare itself to handle as many as 568 additional K-5 students in the next five years -- the size of a large elementary school.

Besides the groundbreakings expected this summer, several large bond projects -- including Gunn's industrial-arts building and Paly's softball and baseball fields -- already have been completed.

And there's more to come, including a new performing-arts center at Paly budgeted for nearly $18 million.

The bond also has funded interactive Smartboards and amplification systems in all elementary classrooms as well as at JLS -- more than 200 classrooms in all, officials said.

"We've essentially stopped buying televisions because the (Smartboard) projector will project whatever image you have on your computer screen to the whiteboard," Golton said.

"This is what children are used to doing nowadays."

Bond funds also are supplying classroom technology, including laptops and iPads.

"We're buying more laptops instead of desktops, and now the use of laptops is eroding because people are buying iPads," Golton said.

"All schools are being touched by this. You can't go any place in any of our schools and not find student workstations being funded by our bond."

Site committees at each campus -- including parents, staff and students -- have been involved in planning the changes and advertising the plans to school neighbors. A landscape committee populated by community members also has provided scrutiny, particularly of the high school landscape plans.

Elements of the bond program have come before the school board in hundreds of bits and pieces as they make their way through a lengthy approval process, which includes a mandatory review by the Division of State Architect that can take up to nine months.

The recession led to "steeply discounted" bids early in the bond program as contractors slashed their margins to get the work, said Thomas Hodges, a senior vice-president of O'Connor Construction Management Inc. and program director for the bond project.

As materials costs began increasing six months ago, "We're still getting bids under budget, but not the steeply discounted bids we were seeing last year," Hodges said.

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Like this comment
Posted by PaltoAltoTreeWatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 22, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Can anyone tell me who authorized the removal of a 50 year old Redwood at Gunn? I know school board approved it, but which arborists signed
off on this, and what other tree removals are they signing off on?

I hear redwoods are coming out at JLS as well. Where is Dave Dockter and Canopy - no where to be found - because these trees are not Oaks.
A disgrace in my opinion.

The war on trees in Palo Alto continues - all of this development is coming at the cost of trees - because there are architects with zero creativity that don't know what it means to build an atrium around a tree. These folks need to do some serious learning and learn to think out of the box.

I don't hold out much hope - more fake green coming your way.

Like this comment
Posted by LoriL
a resident of Downtown North
on May 23, 2011 at 9:23 am

"all of this development is coming at the cost of trees"

Come on now...there are plenty of trees in Palo Alto. In fact, too many in my opinion. To sacrifice a few trees to better our schools is not such a bad thing.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2011 at 10:11 am

I am only familiar with the Paly plans - but from experience I'm pretty confident that if you look at Gunn's plan (can be found on PAUSD web site), the landscape plan documents trees slated for removal and trees slated to be planted.

In at least Paly's case, there will be a net addition of trees once everything is complete. I would guess that you can expect the same for Gunn. There have been many (announced in the Weekly among other places) public meetings on the landscape designs for all campuses. I have not attended but have read the minutes and reviewed the plans online.

The end result will be fine.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 23, 2011 at 10:26 am

As far as I know, the city government has very little, if any, control over what happens at school sites. The city does not issue permits for school construction, the Dept of the State Architect does that. So, it's not clear to me that Dave Dockter or anyone else at City Hall can do anything about trees on school property, oaks or anything else.

Like this comment
Posted by Crabby
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 23, 2011 at 11:23 am

$76 million for new school projects after all those school projects last year??

How big's Palo Alto budget shortfall again??

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2011 at 11:55 am

@ Crabby: do your homework before popping off. The construction is funded by the 2008 bond. That money is specifically targeted for construction and cannot be used for any other purpose.

Get a clue, dude.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Class of '67
a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Gunn Class of '67 is a registered user.

Hello Crescent Park Dad!
As you correctly state, school bond monies cannot be diverted. The unfortunate reality is how frivolously those taxpayer funds are spent; necessitating additional bonds due to poor supervision by school district. Learned hard way as board member of 501(c)(3) supplementing another local school district. Stunning.
Why school district project managers predictably & routinely allow runaway contractor charges & change orders seems contradictory for public servants serving local communities. Bidding process awards same contractors working numerous local school districts; check out contract price/change orders/estimates on PA schools:
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Marielena G-M
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm

How about spending the moneys on more counselors, and new effective anti-bullying programs that really work for all schools to improve the social and emotionally health of our students, so ALL students can enjoy get an education and be alive at the time they are supposed to graduate?

Like this comment
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm

@Gunn Class of '67 - were you suggesting that there was waste, runaway charges & change orders in the Palo Alto building projects? Or just that there might be because there are in others? I followed the link you provided and looked at some of the projects - hard to tell much there, at least for the untrained eye.

My understanding is that the district is required to take the low bid and there are many bidder these days. And that change orders above 5% or maybe 10% cumulative of the original project cost require school board approval, which has not yet been requested for any project yet.

I would appreciate hearing more info if you can share.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Tree watcher,

Coincidentally, the Board of Education is scheduled to discuss possible adoption of a "tree policy" tomorrow night: Web Link

The item is scheduled to be discussed, but not voted on, at Tuesday's meeting.

Like this comment
Posted by North End Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm

There are many things you could find fault with the Palo Alto school district for, but bond oversight isn't one of them. I've been following the construction and they get amazing values and seem to hold their contractors' feet to the fire. Question what buildings get priority? Sure. But not the management.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Part of the oversight process is that there is citizens committee that audits the budget plan and outcome. Most of the members, if not all, have either professional building/development and/or financial management experience.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2011 at 8:15 am

Marielena G-M -the bond money can not legally be used for staff. PiE donations can (and are) used for counselors at the middle and high school level. Donate to PiE (you can specify that you want it used at the secondary level).

Like this comment
Posted by pa resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2011 at 11:36 am

Tree Watcher,
Both Paly and Gunn are getting multi-story structures in order to minimize the footprint of the new construction, at a significant cost. Between 15-25% of the cost of the first $20million building at Gunn will be just the EXTRA to make it twostory, not to mention the extra costs maintaining it (including the probability of having to air condition it). That's at least $3million and almost certainly more on one building being spent saving trees. (Of course, the only reason to expand Gunn is to put all the extra enrollment on those campuses rather than Cubberley, so there's a trade off there, though the district never analyzed that option so I don't know the cost breakdown.)

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The construction is funded by the 2008 bond. That money is specifically targeted for construction and cannot be used for any other purpose."

Where will they get the money to OPERATE these new facilities?

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

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