Kids playing in a tree-shaded sandbox have temporarily stopped the bulldozers on Stanford University's $5 billion medical-center expansion.
Parents of children at Stanford's Arboretum Children's Center, which has operated inconspicuously for years among the oaks near Hoover Pavilion, said they learned just two weeks ago that digging for a new parking garage was set to begin next month in the middle of the school's current play yard.
Stanford's construction plans will demolish the day care center's "Forest Room" and place 2-month-old to 5-year-old children just 38 feet away from the digging for the nine-level garage, they said.
Acknowledging "parents have only recently become aware" of the imminent construction, Stanford appeared to be scrambling this week to resolve the issue.
While maintaining the project "will not pose significant health risks to children," the university asked the Palo Alto City Council to postpone a final approval on the massive medical-center expansion from June 20 to July 11.
Stanford's current plans call for relocating the Forest classroom and play-yard space to a side of the day care center away from the digging.
But parents, many of whom are Stanford physicians and scientists, say they're still worried about toxic airborne particles and dangerous noise levels.
"There are many unanswered questions regarding possible significant health hazards of the construction project," they said in a statement.
"We have several parents willing to lie in front of bulldozers if necessary," parent Melissa Michelson told the Palo Alto City Council Monday.
Michelson disputed Stanford's contention that the problem is just a matter of miscommunication and that the environmental analysis concluding children would be unharmed by the construction is sound.
"We don't believe this is a communication problem. We believe this is Stanford not taking adequate concern for our children," she said.
Simon Klemperer, a geophysics professor whose children have received care at Arboretum, said parents "had no idea" until two weeks ago the hospital project will involve the old Hoover Pavilion.
The pinkish, historic structure is across Quarry Road from Bloomingdale's. It was built in the early 1930s and operated at the time as Palo Alto Hospital but was replaced as the main hospital facility following the 1959 opening of the Edward Durell Stone structure still in use.
Hoover is slated to be restored and used for medical office space.
Day care parents had paid little attention to details of the hospital expansion until receiving a June 6 email inviting them to a meeting about the "revitalization of Arboretum," Klemperer said.
"I was vaguely aware of the (medical-center expansion) project and, like all Stanford projects, tend to assume that it is for the greater good," Klemperer said, adding he had believed inconveniences such as traffic would be outweighed by a new hospital.
"Parents' jaws dropped" at the June 16 meeting, when plans for a mid-July erection of construction fences -- one of which will bisect the children's play yard -- were unveiled, he said.
As of Thursday, Sarah Staley, director of public relations for the hospital project, said Stanford stands by its environmental analysis but was working to "find mutually agreeable solutions before beginning construction activities on the Hoover site."
Possible options include "providing interim child-care facilities off-site during construction, opportunities for other child-care services, and implementing additional mitigations informed by the City Council-certified Final Environmental Impact Report," she said.
"Clearly there was a breakdown in communication," Staley said.
"Though many on and off campus have been invested in the entitlements and facilities planning process for over four years now, the fact that the parents of the campus-based child care center were unaware and uninformed of the project is regretful."