School building boom biggest since the 1950s

Results of $378 million bond measure visible after four years of planning

In the midst of its biggest building boom since the 1950s, the Palo Alto school district is modernizing and adding space to its 17 campuses across the city.

Visible construction sites from Gunn High School in the south to Duveneck Elementary School in the north are the product of four years of architectural planning and state bureaucratic approvals since 2008, when Palo Alto school district voters decisively approved the $378 million "Strong Schools" facilities bond measure.

Six campuses -- both high schools, all three middle schools and Fairmeadow Elementary School -- opened the school year with hardhat zones. At Duveneck, portable classrooms have been moved to make way for groundbreaking on a new, two-story classroom building in early 2013.

About half the bond money $184 million already has been spent on or committed to projects that are under construction, according to Bob Golton, the district's facilities and bond program manager.

The rest is in reserve, currently allocated to Gunn and Palo Alto high schools as well as to construction of a new elementary school or rehabilitation of an existing elementary campus now leased to a third party, such as Garland School at 870 N. California Ave.

No funds have been allocated for a fourth middle school, for which the school district said this week it is seeking a venue.

School officials also say there will be a need for a 13th elementary school in the next five years.

Less clear is where the new schools will be located, but there are a variety of possibilities.

Rather than settling immediately on existing district inventory, Superintendent Kevin Skelly says he prefers to scour the community for another possible middle school venue.

The lease of Garland to the independent Stratford School expires in June 2014.

The district recently spent $8.5 million to buy 2.6 acres at 525 San Antonio Road, which backs up to Greendell School, which is contiguous with the district-owned Cubberley Community Center.

The 525 San Antonio property has been leased for two years to the startup Athena School for children with dyslexia.

School officials say that at least in the short term they want to continue leasing the old Cubberley High School property to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center. The district relies on the $7 million-a-year lease income.

However in the long term, school officials say they may need Cubberley, either for a comprehensive high school or other educational purposes. The Cubberley lease is up for renewal in 2014.

The school district also owns the old Fremont Hills Elementary School campus in Los Altos Hills, currently leased to Pinewood School.

A recent surge in enrollment has shown no sign of slowing down. Officials are projecting growth of about 2 percent a year but stress that demographic predictions beyond about five years are not reliable.

Palo Alto had three comprehensive high schools, three middle schools and 22 elementary schools when enrollment was at its historic high of 15,000 in 1968.

Headcount had dropped by half to 7,500 in 1989, when it started on a steady upward trajectory.

Last fall, district-wide enrollment stood at 12,286. This year's official tally will be taken in September.

View a chart of the construction projects.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Let me just ask a question then ... I remember when Palo Alto shut down and sold a bunch of real estate, like Cubberly and Terman - probably many others ... so - what is the financial history of these decisions?

During growth times dumping such real estate is like pissing away a good investment, and now that we need more school room we have to pay right back for it.

Who benefited and what are the economics around this ... any information .... any hot young bloodhound reporters that can look into this, because it just seems like more that communism for the rich, giveaways of resources that should be owned in common to well-connected people, or just people with money who get a deal while the city and all its inhabitants take a hit.


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Posted by lots of changes over the years
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm

PA schools that have closed:
HIGH SCHOOL: Cubberley- District still owns
MIDDLE SCHOOL: Terman- re-opened
ELEMENTARY: Crecent Park - land sold
De Anza - land housing
Garland - District still owns (lease-expires June 2014)
Greendell - District still owns
Hoover - land sold
Lytton - land sold
Ortega - land sold
Ross-land sold
Ventura - not sure if city owns or district owns

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Posted by Back when
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I remember Lytton before it was torn down and sold. It was a huge gray institutional-lookng building set back from the corner of Lytton Middlefield. Two or three stories. I recall driving by the building when I was a kid in the 1960s, but I think it was long closed as a school by then.

Lytton Gardens replaced it. We went from facilities for our kids to facilities for the elderly.

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Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Aug 26, 2012 at 8:26 am

You forgot several schools I attended

Stanford - Stanford provided space for two new schools
Mayfield - now city soccer fields
Fremont Hills - still owned by district - leased

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2012 at 8:46 am

PAUSD still owns Fremont Hills site which is now part of Pinewood School.

Ventura school site is no long owned by PAUSD, but there is some sort of agreement there similar to the part of Cubberley which is owned by the City.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Both Fremont Hills and Garland sites should be taken back and used sooner rather than later. Cubberley is the total gem in all this and a wonderful central location.

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Posted by bait and switch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm

And yet, despite all this construction, many of those old problematic elementary and middle school buildings are going to be given a fresh coat of paint (maybe) with no plans to replace them or overhaul some of their significant problems. I voted for that bond because I thought we were going to do away with the aging structures and modernize for the next century.

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Posted by Ken Dauber for School Board 2012
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2012 at 8:44 am

Ken Dauber, candidate for school board in the upcoming election, has posted some thoughtful analysis about the past and future of facilities planning in the district on his website at He advocates a data-driven planning process that will lead to a better collaboration with the City over the future of school sites.

"Preserving neighborhood schools. I remember walking with my son Elliot the few blocks from our house to Barron Park School when he was still only four, telling him that soon we would be walking together to school to start kindergarten. I didn't realize at the time that we weren't actually guaranteed a spot at our neighorhood school. Fortunately, he was admitted to Barron Park. But we need to ensure that we don’t resort to overflowing our students around the city due to poor planning and overly simplistic demographic projections.

"In some cases -- like our choice schools -- having kids travel to school makes sense. In most other cases, it doesn’t, and leads to traffic and safety issues as young children are forced to cross busy streets to reach their schools. Community members have purchased a home, as I did, with the expectation of walking their children to a particular school and the school district should honor the expectations that it has set through the drawing of attendance boundaries. The current system of overflowing students, often far from home, can feel like a "bait and switch" to parents who, like me, walked their preschooler over to the playground in their neighborhood, telling their son or daughter about the day when he or she would be going to "big kid" school there.

"It's impossible to get this right every time, but we could do much better. The school district needs better skills at long-range planning and demographic projection. We need to develop better organizational capacity for predicting where growth will come, and where it won’t, so that we can build in the right place, and in the right amount.

"As a cautionary tale, I’m reminded of what happened in the 1980s. The school board, faced with declining enrollments over many years, voted to close Gunn as a high school and open it as a middle school. JLS would have been sold off and Jordan leased to an engineering school, and the proceeds used to cover the operating budget. Had this happened, we would today have one high school -- at Paly -- and one middle school -- at Gunn. Imagine the city-wide traffic and transportation difficulties that would have ensued as every high school student in Palo Alto converged on Paly.

"Instead, a group of involved Stanford economists, parents, and citizens decided to looked at enrollment in kindergarten and first grade, and at trends in housing sales. They ran the numbers and found that enrollment was actually going to be increasing over the next 5 to 10 years. Some of them ran for the school board, got elected, and managed to reverse the school board’s decision before it was too late. And they were right -- enrollment did rise, and it turns out we did need 2 high schools and 3 middle schools, rather than one of each.

We're not facing declining enrollments now -- quite the opposite -- but we have the same need for careful thinking and expertise."

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Posted by Not Ken Dauber
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 27, 2012 at 9:53 am

Anyone thinking of voting for Ken Dauber in the school board election this November ought to first do a search on "Dauber" (Ken and Michelle) in the threads of this forum and read it all. This will give you a good glimpse of who this person is and what he's been trying to do.

I have read it all, I was very UNimpressed, and I will vote AGAINST Ken Dauber.

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Posted by Gunn Alum Parent
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Aug 27, 2012 at 10:42 am

When Terman was closed and sold to the city, some land was sold by the city--the land for the Terman apartments and Bowman International School. This made Terman a less than desirable middle school property as it cannot be expanded, hence the need for another middle school.

Why not use Garland in combination with Jordan as a middle school? Garland could be 6th grade only with 7th and 8th grades at Jordan. Fields and athletic facilities can be shared.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned PAUSD Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm

To "changes over the years":

PAUSD does not own Cubberley. The City Of Palo Alto owns eight acres of that site. PAUSD owns the rest. These governmental bodies are not the same.

I encourage everyone with kids in elementary school to pay close attention to the Cubblerley deal that is being discussed NOW. Your children will be the ones affected...and VERY few of you seem to be engaged with the process. That won't be good for your interests.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

We just have to get out of our 1950's school design, why not add a second floor, interior hallways, just an idea

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Posted by justdoit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2012 at 12:28 am

Menlo Park is almost finished with a complete renovation/expansion of all their schools. Hillview Middle School was completely rebuilt and is an incredible new facility.

Web Link

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I think if you asked the people who's backyards are next to Hillview School if they like the new 2-story buildings looking down into their yards - they might have a different opinion of the design.

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Posted by Cubberley?
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 30, 2012 at 8:39 pm

What does it mean to be "engaged with the process" wrt Cubberley? I agree this is very big deal. But how can we find out what's going on, and what kind of input is it useful for parents to provide, esp those who don't have a particular background in facilities, demographics, etc?

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

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