As the dust settles following the discussions about the potential sale or lease of eight city-owned acres to Foothill College to utilize that portion of Cubberley for a Foothill College campus, other options emerge. While I still believe the original Foothill proposal had significant and real merit, it is over.
There's another option that should be explored to address the needs of both the City of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD). The entire 35-acre site should be planned jointly for a new public-safety building and a new alternative secondary school. A well-designed and thoughtful site plan could do both. The uses are compatible and achieve important outcomes.
The need for a new public-safety building has been clearly and repeatedly established. Most recently, the Public Safety Building Blue Ribbon Task Force (2007) produced a comprehensive and detailed report. The current Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission also identifies both the future of Cubberley and the need for a new public-safety building as important infrastructure and community issues.
The eight city-owned acres are significantly more than needed for a well-designed, sustainable and exciting building (compact footprint), landscaping and parking. A "stepped-back" design could reduce its "mass" from adjacent properties and Middlefield Road. Funding, design and construction alternatives should be explored, including bonds, public-private partnerships and buy/lease-back options. Potential solutions used successfully in other communities should be researched.
A noteworthy design would result in an award-wining 21st-century civic building that would also support one of our key city priorities: emergency preparedness. It would also complement the implementation of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and our many community emergency-preparedness programs. A new, innovative building could coincide with changing service-delivery models that are now under consideration. Other communities provide some excellent examples.
I will refrain from commenting on the condition of our current public-safety facilities; their decrepit state is well understood. What an embarrassment. We must do better. Surely, we can come up with a solution. With very limited resources to buy real estate, why would we not use some of the city-owned land for a public-safety building?
A well-planned site also would address the needs of the Palo Alto Unified School District. While cycles vary over time, currently student enrollment continues to grow. Several years ago, a high school task force identified the importance of Cubberley as a potential alternative school site for secondary school students. The task force concluded that a full comprehensive high school, like Gunn or Paly, might not be necessary or appropriate. A new campus could focus on specialized educational content or experiences.
How often do we hear about "schools within schools" or innovative models in education? This is our chance.
In my mind, we should be beyond "brick-and-mortar" solutions. The one-story sprawling campus is not a modern educational facility. A more compact secondary school, with flexible and adaptive spaces, combining online and traditional classroom teaching makes much more sense.
There are also a number of program and scheduling solutions that could serve students and staff, such as using classroom and community space for enhanced adult education, training programs, child care and the arts.
This type of flexibility would also be exciting -- and would require buy-in by educators, the city, students and the community. If larger entities, such as other school districts in the region, the University of California and Stanford University can do this, so can we. Some districts have "community schools," a separate entity that programs existing schools for after-school and evening classes and community programs. One excellent example that was highly responsive to community needs is Montgomery County, Md., where I formerly lived.
Again, with careful site planning these various uses are feasible; we would still be protecting recreational fields and open space for school and community use.
If the school district seriously needs a revised operating campus, now is the time to begin planning and budgeting. District officials have experience and will do a great job.
The city could also achieve multiple goals and needed facilities that would also improve the safety and security of our community and businesses.
As a City Council member and former school board member, I recognize and appreciate the needs and concerns of all stakeholders, including current tenants and users of Cubberley. All parties need to explore this concept and scenarios that would meet multiple and complex needs.
I believe this is a complex yet vigorous solution that has promise.
In a period of severely limited public resources, need for multiple use facilities is more acute than ever. Jointly, we would demonstrate our abilities to work together to be innovative and responsible. Let's step up and show what can be done -- change is an opportunity.