Addison Elementary School revamp could cost $17M

Anonymous donor intends to cover full cost of project

An anonymous donor has committed an initial $1.3 million toward a potential revamp of Addison Elementary School, a project with an estimated price tag of $16.96 million.

A representative for the donor approached the school district last spring to communicate the donor's interest in improving Addison, which has the oldest elementary school classrooms in Palo Alto Unified. The donor subsequently provided a $25,000 planning grant for the district to engage its architect, the Addison site council and broader school community to identify what site improvements were most critical and create a conceptual design, which they did. This amount is typical for elementary school conceptual designs for PAUSD, Bond Program Manager Bob Golton wrote in a staff report on the project.

The school board will discuss an update on the proposed project and process at Tuesday's board meeting.

The planning discussions, which took place at Addison this fall, yielded an ambitious list, including a new two-story building, a new multi-purpose room, a maker's space/innovation lab, and more outdoor-learning environments. Currently, the library and administration building are located in the interior of the school; the multipurpose room can't accommodate all of Addison's 471 students; and with eight portables, outdoor play and learning space is limited.

The donor's representative "indicated the donor continued to be interested in funding improvements to Addison but not on the scale (or amount) of the conceptual design booklet that the architect prepared following the brainstorming sessions," Golton wrote in his report.

The proposed $16.96 million price tag would cover the two-story administration and library building, a new three classroom/flex-rooms building, a new multipurpose room, landscape improvements and a courtyard redesign "to expand usefulness to the adjacent classrooms."

The donor contributed this month a donation of $1.3 million — a "first gift" to cover "pre-construction tasks," Golton wrote. This initial donation includes all activities up to and including bidding the project but not the award of the project to a contractor or any other expenses incurred after contract award, according to Golton.

The gift was made through a Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund donor-advised fund. As such, the donor cannot make a pledge for future gifts, but the two parties have "agreed that the district is not making a commitment to fund the project," Golton wrote.

Superintendent Max McGee told the Weekly that "it is the donor's intent to cover the full amount of the project."

Under current board policy, before accepting a gift, the board or superintendent must consider whether the donation "has a purpose consistent with the district's vision and philosophy," "begins a program which the Board would be unable to continue when the donated funds are exhausted," "entails undesirable or excessive costs" and "implies endorsement of any business or product."

The policy also encourages donors to make gifts to the district rather than to a particular school. At the superintendent's or designee's discretion, however, a donation can be used at a specific school. Donations to individual sites cannot be used for personnel costs during the school day.

The board's policy review committee is currently discussing this gifts policy. A newly proposed administrative regulation would require board approval for gifts more than $50,000. School principals could approve and accept gifts up to $25,000 and the superintendent, up to $50,000.

A project of this scope raises the question of progressive parity, one of the district's 13 overarching "community values" for enrollment and master planning. Under progressive parity, the district must "provide adequate and comparable school facilities, learning environments, educational experiences, opportunities, and staffing ratios throughout the district, including shared resources (such as libraries, subject specific classrooms, elective spaces, support staff areas, and athletic/play/outdoor areas). While recognizing that major facility renovations are incremental and sequential by nature ('progressive'), all facility improvements will be deliberately planned and phased to honor and work towards districtwide parity."

Golton wrote that staff had a "detailed discussion" with the donor's representative about improvements that have been made at other elementary schools, including Duveneck, Ohlone and Fairmeadow, as well as "what work had been previously discussed for the elementary schools; and the board approval process." The representative told the district that the donor "appreciated and supported the need to balance the improvements at the school with the principle of progressive parity."

While Addison would be the fourth elementary school to have its portables replaced and a two-story building built on campus if the project is approved, Addison would be the first elementary school to have its multi-purpose building replaced or renovated, Golton wrote. Duveneck got a new two-story classroom building and two small, single-story classroom buildings in 2014. That project cost $11 million. Both Fairmeadow and Ohlone also had new two-story classroom built in recent years.

Most construction was funded by the $378 million "Strong Schools" bond measure, approved in June 2008 by 77.5 percent of voters in the school district.

The district currently has $60.3 million in its Strong Schools Bond reserves for elementary improvements, according to Golton.

Staff is also recommending using $148,000 from the Strong Schools Bond project to develop and update conceptual design work at the eight other schools, Superintendent Max McGee wrote in his executive summary for Tuesday's board meeting.

If the board approves the project, construction would start February 2018 and the new buildings would open by August 2019, according to a proposed timeline.

In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on several funding requests to support students' mental health during this school year; discuss two new high school courses (AP Physics1 and "Principles of Biomedical Science"); hear an interim financial report; and discuss its policy committee's next meeting.

Tuesday's board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

The board is also convening Tuesday morning for a budget study session at 8:30 a.m.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the number of portables on Addison's campus. There are eight portables being used in the current school year.

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44 people like this
Posted by Beware of empty promises
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Feb 22, 2016 at 8:30 pm

This is a really bad idea for a public school district. We cannot start accepting private donations for single projects at the elementary level. The high school level is easier to acheive parity, but there isn't enough money for 12 elementary schools to have the same level of upgrades.

Be very aware of empty promises made by the district on building plans. Every single elementary school was supposed to have a new MP room and a replacement building for their portables with the last bond. Instead, that money got taken away from each school and put into a "reserve fund". There is $60M sitting in a pot that hasn't been touched because the district and defunct school board can't figure out what needs to be done at the elementary level. Even if schematic designs are put in place for each school, there is nothing stopping the board from changing their minds at the last minute if the budget starts to take a turn for the worse again.

The three recent elementary school projects have all added capacity. If this project at Addison (one of the fullest schools in the district with the second highest overflow percentage) doesn't plan to add capacity, this should be a non-starter.

16 people like this
Posted by Amazing donation.
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:23 am

Well, as a parent, I'm so grateful for the donation. I think I can speak for myself, my husband -- and so many of our friends in the Addison community. We really appreciate what the Donor is doing for our community.

Anonymous Donor-- Thank you so very much!!

12 people like this
Posted by Former Addison Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 4, 2016 at 4:47 pm

But I suppose the money saved in the budget could go somewhere else. Sigh.

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

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