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Guest Opinion: A year later, the question remains: What's happening with Cubberley?

Parent: 'The school district is not going to need this site for a high school in the foreseeable future.'

It's been one year since the Palo Alto Unified School District superintendent and the Palo Alto city manager signed a Cubberley Futures compact, committing to a collaborative effort and a creative design process for this shared space. But there is no sign of the road map that was promised for last fall, let alone concrete plans for what could be built.

It's been four years since the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee delivered its comprehensive report. But there is no sign of the needs assessment it strongly recommended as the crucial first step in the process.

Who owns Cubberley?

Cubberley was built in 1955 as a high school and closed in 1979 due to declining enrollment and financial issues. The school district owns 27 acres at Cubberley and the city owns eight, with the lease between the school district and the city expiring in less than three years.

The lengthy backstory of the shared ownership has its roots in the city helping the school district during a difficult financial period by making significant annual payments for a covenant not to develop, and also includes a land swap of the Terman site.

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How is Cubberley used today?

After offering to purchase part of Cubberley and being refused, Foothill College, a large tenant for decades, has left the building.

Cubberley has become a temporary home for whichever organization is rebuilding -- first the Mitchell Park library, now Avenidas, and next the Junior Museum & Zoo.

There are also softball, soccer, tennis, and basketball games, the Friends of the Palo Alto Library monthly book sale, music and dance practices and performances, language classes, child care and after-school educational programs, artist studios, religious and cultural services, a variety of wellness programs and other nonprofits. These organizations offer a wide array of opportunities and services for kids, seniors and everyone in between, making Palo Alto a better place to live, play and learn.

Since this site is jointly owned by the school district and city, I decided to attend the February session of the monthly city/school meeting. In preparation, I printed out the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee's detailed, 823-page report.

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Now that I've read most of it (I confess to skimming the many leases with signatures of city managers and school superintendents from long ago), I am struck by the dire need for a concerted effort to better utilize the space and modernize the buildings. This need has been well-known for decades -- in fact, a master plan was produced in the early 1990s but never implemented.

Some of this sounds familiar to me and my friends from our work on the library bond in 2008 -- a decrepit building in south Palo Alto from the 1950s with no air conditioning, high maintenance costs, and poor use of the space. As the facilities subcommittee reported in 2013, "The 57-year-old facility is run down and energy inefficient, and its current layout wastes valuable space and is neither designed for, nor well suited to, modern school or community programming."

It's easy to get lost after you park your car or lock your bike because the layout is confusing and the signage is nonexistent or outdated. The grass fields are uneven and frequently flood. The roofing maintenance required is extensive and expensive. Walking down the halls to get to the bathrooms is a balance exercise because the walkway slopes so steeply toward the street. Frankly, the condition of the buildings is poor and only getting worse.

What's changed?

The school district is not going to need this site for a high school in the foreseeable future. Many of the community organizations currently renting at Cubberley offer important services and would find it difficult to locate and/or afford space elsewhere in the city. Playing fields continue to be in high demand.

Housing of all kinds understandably dominates the city's political agenda (currently, the waitlists for affordable housing in Palo Alto range from 500 to 1,000 people at each property, and it can take from five to 15 years to get called for a spot). Clearly, the time has come to look deeply and boldly at what we need, what we have and what needs to change.

The city/school committee put this topic on its April agenda with the hope and expectation that the city manager and school superintendent would come and jointly share the work that is being done and the plan for dramatically improving this space, the largest piece of publicly owned land in the city. Hopefully, they will hold the meeting at Cubberley so they can get a better sense of the problem.

I know, from personal experience, that it will take years of work to create a space that works for everyone. A task list for this project will likely include: Complete a robust needs assessment with community input, host a creative design charrette, develop a reasonable plan, build a strong implementation team, find the right financing, and then execute the plan. Continuing to put off this necessary work because it is difficult is simply poor management of this important community resource.

The city and the school district should have already started working on this challenging and exciting project, but it appears that the answer to my question about what is happening at Cubberley is, nothing -- and that's a shame.

Alison Cormack chaired the $76 million library bond campaign in 2008, has lived in south Palo Alto for 20 years, and has been a Palo Alto Unified School District parent for 15 years. She can be reached at [email protected]

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Guest Opinion: A year later, the question remains: What's happening with Cubberley?

Parent: 'The school district is not going to need this site for a high school in the foreseeable future.'

by Alison Cormack / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 7, 2017, 6:57 am

It's been one year since the Palo Alto Unified School District superintendent and the Palo Alto city manager signed a Cubberley Futures compact, committing to a collaborative effort and a creative design process for this shared space. But there is no sign of the road map that was promised for last fall, let alone concrete plans for what could be built.

It's been four years since the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee delivered its comprehensive report. But there is no sign of the needs assessment it strongly recommended as the crucial first step in the process.

Who owns Cubberley?

Cubberley was built in 1955 as a high school and closed in 1979 due to declining enrollment and financial issues. The school district owns 27 acres at Cubberley and the city owns eight, with the lease between the school district and the city expiring in less than three years.

The lengthy backstory of the shared ownership has its roots in the city helping the school district during a difficult financial period by making significant annual payments for a covenant not to develop, and also includes a land swap of the Terman site.

How is Cubberley used today?

After offering to purchase part of Cubberley and being refused, Foothill College, a large tenant for decades, has left the building.

Cubberley has become a temporary home for whichever organization is rebuilding -- first the Mitchell Park library, now Avenidas, and next the Junior Museum & Zoo.

There are also softball, soccer, tennis, and basketball games, the Friends of the Palo Alto Library monthly book sale, music and dance practices and performances, language classes, child care and after-school educational programs, artist studios, religious and cultural services, a variety of wellness programs and other nonprofits. These organizations offer a wide array of opportunities and services for kids, seniors and everyone in between, making Palo Alto a better place to live, play and learn.

Since this site is jointly owned by the school district and city, I decided to attend the February session of the monthly city/school meeting. In preparation, I printed out the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee's detailed, 823-page report.

Now that I've read most of it (I confess to skimming the many leases with signatures of city managers and school superintendents from long ago), I am struck by the dire need for a concerted effort to better utilize the space and modernize the buildings. This need has been well-known for decades -- in fact, a master plan was produced in the early 1990s but never implemented.

Some of this sounds familiar to me and my friends from our work on the library bond in 2008 -- a decrepit building in south Palo Alto from the 1950s with no air conditioning, high maintenance costs, and poor use of the space. As the facilities subcommittee reported in 2013, "The 57-year-old facility is run down and energy inefficient, and its current layout wastes valuable space and is neither designed for, nor well suited to, modern school or community programming."

It's easy to get lost after you park your car or lock your bike because the layout is confusing and the signage is nonexistent or outdated. The grass fields are uneven and frequently flood. The roofing maintenance required is extensive and expensive. Walking down the halls to get to the bathrooms is a balance exercise because the walkway slopes so steeply toward the street. Frankly, the condition of the buildings is poor and only getting worse.

What's changed?

The school district is not going to need this site for a high school in the foreseeable future. Many of the community organizations currently renting at Cubberley offer important services and would find it difficult to locate and/or afford space elsewhere in the city. Playing fields continue to be in high demand.

Housing of all kinds understandably dominates the city's political agenda (currently, the waitlists for affordable housing in Palo Alto range from 500 to 1,000 people at each property, and it can take from five to 15 years to get called for a spot). Clearly, the time has come to look deeply and boldly at what we need, what we have and what needs to change.

The city/school committee put this topic on its April agenda with the hope and expectation that the city manager and school superintendent would come and jointly share the work that is being done and the plan for dramatically improving this space, the largest piece of publicly owned land in the city. Hopefully, they will hold the meeting at Cubberley so they can get a better sense of the problem.

I know, from personal experience, that it will take years of work to create a space that works for everyone. A task list for this project will likely include: Complete a robust needs assessment with community input, host a creative design charrette, develop a reasonable plan, build a strong implementation team, find the right financing, and then execute the plan. Continuing to put off this necessary work because it is difficult is simply poor management of this important community resource.

The city and the school district should have already started working on this challenging and exciting project, but it appears that the answer to my question about what is happening at Cubberley is, nothing -- and that's a shame.

Alison Cormack chaired the $76 million library bond campaign in 2008, has lived in south Palo Alto for 20 years, and has been a Palo Alto Unified School District parent for 15 years. She can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Crescent Park Dad
Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2017 at 3:29 pm
Crescent Park Dad, Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Perfect place for the Casti expansion.


Anonymous
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm
Anonymous, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Move the PAUSD offices to Cubberley at a minimum so they at least pay attention to their negligence.


Gleen McGee time to go
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2017 at 4:43 pm
Gleen McGee time to go, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2017 at 4:43 pm

What's happening to Cubberly is Glenn McGee, or Kevin Skelly 2.0. Do not extend his contract. Phase his contract out and turn the page to another CEO of PAUSD.


Eric
Professorville
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:29 am
Eric, Professorville
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:29 am

Your "What's changed?" section is a good start to planning a path forward. I was afraid for a moment that you would advocate for one particular use of the facilities over the others but to your credit you didn't. Personally, I'm reasonably happy with how the facilities are being used. I like the youth sports uses. I like that community groups can rent space at rates they can afford. Sure it'd be nice to have all the same uses but with nicer buildings or more "efficiency" making everyone happy with with extra space used for something else but my fear is that as soon as you open that can of worms, the mission changes. "Let's use the land for housing" say the developers that would like to develop it. "Let's sell it" say people who want to plug short term budget gaps by selling assets. The development at Mitchell Park seems to have been pretty successful, so you speak with some authority. You've got my attention. But I'm wary of moving too quickly or serving one interest while neglecting others.


resident
Charleston Meadows
on Apr 8, 2017 at 5:11 am
resident, Charleston Meadows
on Apr 8, 2017 at 5:11 am

We are continually being beat on the head to build additional housing. If we do that then we also need additional facilities for schools and playing fields. We are lucky to have this facility available for use by all community organizations to use - one of my functions recently used it while Lucy Stern was being updated and it was very okay for that function. I know that there are a lot of young music groups that use it. The auditorium has been used for Commonwealth Club functions which turned out great since there is a good parking lot. If any one thinks this will be converted to housing then they will have a fight on their hands. Mitchell Park is very popular and booked up so it cannot be considered as the answer to the community use requirement - it is so popular that all is used. The residential population is heavier in the south side so invest some money to update the signage and any other obvious faults that need correction.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2017 at 9:49 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2017 at 9:49 am

If the school board continues to ignore the fact that more and more residential housing is being built in town they are getting themselves into a situation with more students being squeezed into our schools. On the thread about the Jordan principal leaving, a former teacher is putting part of the blame on the fact that the school site is much bigger than it used to be. Squeezing more and more students into a school is not just putting up more portable classrooms, but changing the identity. A student needs to walk into the school office and be met by someone who knows them by name, etc.

I think Cubberley will sooner or later be needed as school facilities again. I just hope that it will be sooner.


Maddy
College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2017 at 8:46 pm
Maddy, College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2017 at 8:46 pm

The school district is a majority owner here, the city is less than a 1/4 owner. The school districts responsibility is to educate the kids that live in Palo Alto. Current PAUSD school facilities, every one that I'm aware of, is over crowded. From my perspective, the school district is lucky that they have Cubberley too expand into, if and when enrollment demands. Yes, the facilities need to be updated, and the number of ways to improve the facility are as many as there are people offering suggestions. Personally, I would like to keep it as a PAUSD resource, not housing, and keep it as a the valuable community resource it has always been. It could be better managed, and attracting a higher education satellite campus to Cubberley, as an anchor Tennant, could revitalize the campus for many years to come. Moving PAUSD district offices to Cubberley would offer Paly additional space that I suspect they might benefit from.


Michael Vilain
Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:29 am
Michael Vilain, Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:29 am

Maddy, It was my understanding that Cubberly isn't earthquake safe and it would cost millions to retrofit the facility.
The figure $35M comes to mind, but I don't recall where I saw that number. I wandered around the campus and saw much of the steel structures rusted through. One document on-line quotes the central heating and lighting upgrade for just the auditorium to be $1.6M.

Various groups are eyeing this facility rubbing their hands just waiting their claws on it. If PAUSD offices move there, they'll at least get a first hand view of what would work for student use and what wouldn't. In it's current condition, it's fine for community classes but I wonder if the state would allow students to use it without significant safely upgrades. Which costs lots of money. Who pays for that?


Across the street
Greenmeadow
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:32 am
Across the street, Greenmeadow
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:32 am

Refurbishing the Mitchell Park facilities was a great idea -- you invest in your infrastructure or it rots. So much nicer/more useful now. I agree that the same should be done for Cubberley. South Palo Alto still lacks in facilities compared to North.

At Cubberley:
I'd like to see more studio space, move the Midpen Media center there, make a large indoor auditorium for plays and meetings, more sports facilities, dance floor space etc. A Maker/Machine/Tech shop? Adult education. Establishing a 3rd high school is not really practical in terms of admin costs, size of the site etc. It would be better to move the Pausd offices to Cubberley and just make more room to expand Paly. There could be some smaller high school alternative program there.

Totally against housing there. Forget it. Housing loses the space forever, South Palo Alto already has too many apartment units and the majority of subsidized housing. I do fear some shortsighted admin in Pausd would want a quick, one time goose to the budget and just sell if off ... after they overcome decades of legal battle.


Something needs to be done
Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:45 am
Something needs to be done, Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:45 am

All that land needs to be preserved and allowed for the use of the public. Housing would definitely piss off Palo Altans.


musical
Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:55 am
musical, Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:55 am

"Establishing a 3rd high school is not really practical"

Everything was much more practical 45 years ago when I graduated at Cubberley.
Maybe because we had a lot less money back then.


Nostalgic dreaming is not planning.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2017 at 11:09 am
Nostalgic dreaming is not planning., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2017 at 11:09 am

Things were EASIER 45 years ago. We had a lot more land to work with then.

That open land is gone. We need to plan for a future that is very different. Let's roll up our sleeves and hop to it.


Across the Street
Greenmeadow
on Apr 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm
Across the Street, Greenmeadow
on Apr 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm

"Everything was much more practical 45 years ago when I graduated at Cubberley.
Maybe because we had a lot less money back then."

Lead paint and asbestos were also only an (unknown) personal problem back in the good 'ol daze.

It is smaller than the other high schools, ~1.2M sqr feet (not counting the existing Greendell school there) vs. about ~2M sqr feet at Gunn and Paly according to google maps. Outdated buildings, no pool, and the district would have to pay the city back for a chunk of the land, but in fact, a smaller campus could be located there, so let me clarify:

I'd rather have a full featured center for the community than just a school

... unless it was a trade school with full facilities that could be used as a kind of tech shop by the wider community.


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2017 at 1:58 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Said it before...outstanding, central location. Just a wonderful spot that should be fully and happily utilized. Deserves a full re-build (after sensible and appropriate plan, of course). Please don't wait longer as the space is fully under-utilized now.
Do not hand it over to special interests or commercial schools via lease (my biggest fear). It should be used for the benefit of the public school population of Palo Alto. I strongly prefer a brand new public school to be built on the full property.


How to learn more and help?
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Apr 10, 2017 at 2:03 pm
How to learn more and help?, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Hi. I'm interested in learning more about the thinking/work that's been done on Cubberley to date, and in helping to move things forward. What is the best way to do that?


Here's the report
Greenmeadow
on Apr 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
Here's the report, Greenmeadow
on Apr 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

To find the report, Google Cubberley Community Advisory Committee Report.


Grumpy Old Guy
Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 13, 2017 at 9:44 am
Grumpy Old Guy, Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 13, 2017 at 9:44 am

We should convert Cubberly to a School for the Arts. We open it as a small magnet school to start. Students from Gunn and Paly can attend. It'll centralize the music performances for the community. As the School for the Arts grows slowly, it'll allow the School District and the City to re-invest into the physical infrastructure; and then, possibly, allow community groups to still use a portion of the facilities.


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