School board dips toe into Cubberley discussion

Members also vote to pursue San Antonio parcel, call for facilities plan

As it prepares for talks on the future of Cubberley Community Center, the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday (Sept. 13) also voted to continue pursuing purchase of a nearby 2.65-acre parcel on San Antonio Road.

Meanwhile, board member Dana Tom said the school district needs to clarify its own "working models" for Cubberley before it enters the community-wide discussion about the site.

Talks are slated to begin this fall on the future of Cubberley, closed as a high school in 1979 and leased to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center in the decades since.

Worried about a rising rate of enrollment growth, the school board in July blocked a plan for the sale of 8 city-owned acres of Cubberley to Foothill College for construction of what Foothill said would be a state-of-the-art satellite campus.

Without detailing its intentions, the school board asserted it would need all of Cubberley's 35 acres to accommodate prospective growth, and vowed to work with the City Council to clarify a future for the aging campus.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Tuesday that city and school staff members are collaborating on the issue, and the City Council is scheduled to discuss Cubberley Oct. 3. Some discussion of Cubberley will come before the school board either Sept. 27 or Oct. 11.

"We've got a lot of issues, and they're sequential: what do we do with Cubberley? What do we do with our enrollment growth?" Skelly said.

"The city has to ask, how do they want to utilize the property to meet the needs of folks who use Cubberley right now?

"We're optimistic we can work this out. It might not be easy at times, but there's a lot of goodwill. If you ask many people in Palo Alto whether there's a difference between the city government and the school district, they'll say, 'You guys are all the government.'

"They're not going to have much time for us fighting over Cubberley and not making this work," Skelly said.

Meanwhile, in a closed session Tuesday, the school board voted to pursue purchase of the site of the former Peninsula Day Care Center at 525 San Antonio Road.

The property backs up onto Greendell School, now used by the school district for its preschool and Young Fives programs, and contiguous with Cubberley. The San Antonio parcel has been under contract with, though not yet sold to, developer SummerHill Homes.

Following the closed session, School Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said the board had "voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the owner of the property at 525 San Antonio and SummerHill homes that will allow the district access to investigate the site for possible acquisition."

The current, decades-long management agreement for the popular and well-used Cubberley campus represents costs for the city and income for the school district.

In a 1989 "lease and covenant" between the district and the city, the city agreed to lease Cubberley for use as a community center and, in addition, pay the district extra money in return for a "covenant not to develop" other school sites that had been closed due to declining enrollment.

At that time, the city was in a stronger financial position than the school district, school enrollment had declined precipitously, and the community was smarting from the closure and sale of elementary school sites for housing development.

Changes in the relationship have occurred along the way, including the city's acquisition of 8 acres at Cubberley in exchange for the Terman Middle School campus, which the city had nearly paid for when the school district needed to reclaim it to accommodate enrollment growth.

Currently, the city pays the school district $4.48 million to lease Cubberley and an additional $1.73 million not to develop vacant school sites, according to a draft document prepared in August by the city's Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission.

The city collects $2.54 million a year in rent from various Cubberley users, and spends $2.21 on maintenance of the facility.

School enrollment has been on a steady upward trajectory for two decades after plummeting from its historic high of 16,000 in 1968 to a low of 7,500 in 1989.

Last fall, it came in at 12,024, and this year's official count will be published later this month. Skelly said Tuesday it is up about 2.5 percent.

Before negotiating with the city on Cubberley, school board members Tuesday said they need to formulate better plans of their own.

"I think it's important for us as a board and district to better understand our interests in Cubberley going into these discussions," Tom said.

"I'd like to have some working models of how we can imagine using Cubberley 10 years from now, 15 or 20 years from now -- whatever time frame seems to appear from the demographic report of enrollment growth.

"We need something. It has to be more than an amorphous 'We're going to use it,'" Tom said.

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Like this comment
Posted by it's about time
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:05 am

Finally! The school board realizes that they need to make some decisions about Cubberley. Forward thinking is not this Board's strength.

Like this comment
Posted by ME
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:27 am


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

The reason the closed school sites were sold was not because of "poor planning". The District had to pay high insurance premiums, fence in the sites, and perhaps hire security guards. The latter because a student scaled the fence around the pool at Cubberley and drowned.

Needless to say, the School District did not have the funds to pay for all the costs to retain the properties. I know of no one who saw 30 years ahead of the need for the sites.

I think there are several unused sites including Greendell, Ventura, Cubberley, and one other whose location I've forgotten. Check with the District. However, all of them will require substantial upgrades to comply with new seismic safety requirements and repair of deteriorated facilities. Probably more cost effective to use portables or add on to existing schools, e.g. as being done at Palo Alto High.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I just hope the board doesn't trust the demographers blindly without using some common sense. The demographers have been completely wrong in the past couple of years.

Look at the new housing, not the turnover of existing housing. Palo Alto is growing with families of school aged kids.

Like this comment
Posted by observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I hope the board considers making Cubberley some kind of choice school. That way it can take students from both enrollment areas and allow school administrators better control of enrollments across the whole district.

It also will allow us to have one smaller school that we can try other methods with, such as something closer to the Finnish model, or a project-based curriculum.

At the same time, it would also allow us to reduce enrollments at Gunn and Paly to more optimal levels, reducing stress at those campuses and making a better educational experience.

However, the timing of this is really poor, as they should have been doing this before starting the construction at the high schools. Most of the improvements are not affected, but multistory buildings should be re-examined because of how expensive the square footage and maintenance are -- if we go in a different direction, could we save money at Gunn and Paly by not building up those campuses so much with extra classroom space, and using that money for further improvements at Gunn and Paly, as well as Cubberley?

Given the economy, labor costs (which are the biggie) are not likely to go up, we should put the expansion construction on hold until the Cubberley questions are answered, which hopefully will be soon. It's about time.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm

" The city collects $2.54 million a year in rent from various Cubberley users, and spends $2.21 on maintenance of the facility. "

As a former student at the Foothill part of the campus, I call BS to that statement...

Darn near NO MAINTENANCE was seen at the actual campus! The rooms ceilings were in disrepair and the A/C was a sometime works thing.

The deterioration of the buildings has meant that the money probably went into someone's pocket and no actual maintenance was done. You may want to dig deeper into the 5 W's and an H on where that money went.

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

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