Palo Alto eyes three new schools at Cubberley | April 13, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 13, 2012

Palo Alto eyes three new schools at Cubberley

City, school district release new 'concept plans' for future of dilapidated community center

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto would build three new schools at Cubberley Community Center as part of a new concept that top city and school officials unveiled last week and which the City Council is scheduled to discuss Monday, April 16.

The proposal includes four concepts that a committee of top city and school officials have been considering since late last year. All four concepts include a new elementary school at 525 San Antonio Road, site of a recently closed day care center (the school district purchased the site last year).

The new plans also call for a middle school and a small high school, which would accommodate 600 and 500 students, respectively. While in the first option, the middle and high schools would stand alone, the other three options call for land swaps and shared uses between the city and the schools of gym, theater and classroom spaces.

The report from Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie aims to establish the parameters for one of the most complex ongoing discussions between the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), which owns 27 acres of Cubberley, and the city, which owns 8 acres. The school district leases its space to the city under an agreement that is set to expire in December 2014.

Both sides have stressed the critical importance of Cubberley, a bustling but run-down center at 4000 Middlefield Road that currently includes a Foothill College campus and an eclectic mix of gyms, athletic fields, day care facilities and artist studios. Emslie's report calls it "a significant element of the City's complete infrastructure needs," while school officials see it as crucial to accommodating the district's surge in student population, particularly in south Palo Alto.

At the same time, both sides acknowledge that the center's dilapidated condition will require expensive upgrades. The report pegs the cost of ongoing maintenance and anticipated capital improvements at $10 million over the next four years. The high costs of upgrading Cubberley were a major factor behind a recent recommendation to the city from the specially appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission to terminate the lease.

The city and the school district are trying to reach a consensus by the end of this year about whether to renew the Cubberley lease. They plan to spend much of 2013 discussing the details of the potential lease renewal. In addition to discussing the new concept plans, the council will consider Monday approving a new advisory committee composed of stakeholders to work with the two sides on a solution.

This "Community Advisory Committee" was appointed by City Manager James Keene and includes former mayors Lanie Wheeler and Mike Cobb, various Cubberley tenants, PTA representatives, neighborhood leaders and local commissioners. The group will advise another new committee — the "Policy Advisory Committee" — which will include members from the council and the school board. Both groups are scheduled to kick off discussions this summer.

So far, most of the discussions have occurred at the top levels of the city and school district. In the past three months, Keene, Superintendent Kevin Skelly and architects from the group Gelfand Architects have been considering the district's needs and possible ways to accommodate them. The new concept plans, which the council will look at Monday, are the first publicly released byproduct of these discussions.

"The preliminary options developed jointly with PAUSD and their architect should be considered conceptual drafts intended to present alternatives for subsequent discussions," the report states. "The options only provide some high level detail as to a foundation and starting point for the Cubberley vision process."

The council, which began its deliberations on Cubberley this past Monday, will also consider a set of "guiding principles" relating to Cubberley. These include a commitment to transparency; an agreement for the city and the school district to equally share the planning and architectural costs; and consideration of neighborhood concerns and transportation issues in discussions.

The proposed principles also acknowledge the importance of keeping recreational facilities and community uses at Cubberley. Many of the center's users, including day care providers, artists and dancers, attended council meetings last year and urged city leaders to retain space to meet their needs.

"The types of programs offered by the City and its contractors and subtenants at Cubberley enrich the community and should be preserved and enhanced wherever possible," the proposed principles state.


Should Cubberley be used to house three schools, thus reducing community space currently available? Share your vision for Cubberley on Town Square, the online discussion forum on

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by DSFNA resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

The city of Palo Alto and the School Board should see if they can re-direct Arillaga's money toward this project and including a theatre in the mix.

Posted by GoStanford, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:57 am

The Cubberley complex definitely needs to be revamped, assuming money can be found. I like the concept drawings that Gelfand created. Building the Elementary school is a must and should begin as soon as possible. The small high school is an interesting concept, but I really hope that it isn't just another "neighborhood" school, but rather that Skelley and board take an opportunity to build a high school for the 21st century, focusing on differentiated learning, creative and design thinking, and fully utilizing technology.

Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:07 am

and how many trees are going to be removed to do this.
How about a commitment to preserve the existing trees and design around them?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Arillaga's money will only go to Stanford or a Stanford land project.

Posted by Sue, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm

To paloaltotreewatch: Forget the trees! PEOPLE are more important than trees! Consideration of trees does not come first. Just like these people who do not want to develop anything because it might cause another car to drive through the area! You build what you need to build for the community.

Posted by rem, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm

rem is a registered user.

TO Sue,

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment] Nature should come first. We need to to QUIT over building... [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment]

Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm

He Sue-
Buildings, cars, people don't produce oxygen, do they? Trees do.
So when you don't care about trees, you are really not caring about what you breathe. It's not too late to turn it around and care for
each and every tree which is here. It takes 30 years to make a mature tree, a building goes up in 2 years. What is worth more?

Btw - this little battle in our little town goes on the world over, one tree at a time. And the trees are losing due to shortsighted people like yourself and most of the urban planners in this city.

Welcome to global deforestation. Act local think global. Its not too late.

Posted by Ronnie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Interesting. Looks pretty nice. One thing I'm confused about is the schools - would they be on a "standby" status if the enrollment warrants their use, or would they actually build them and then start feeding students in from the local area?

Posted by Katie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Folks, this is going to be a long term analysis of both the School District and the City's needs for the future of the Cubberley site. Remember the School District has already indicated they will probably not need the site for either a Middle or High School (or both) for another 5 years.

Due to the end of the lease in 2014. Between 2014 and 2019 who will pay for the site, the PAUSD or the City?

The trees will still be there five years from now!!!

Posted by p.a. parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I think this sounds like a great compromise, and would be a good use of the space. I'm very concerned about the expanding size of our schools at all levels. There are definite benefits to smaller, walkable schools for everyone in the community.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Glad to see that there has been discussion on this, but obviously there are more questions than answers here.

The fact that it takes several years to open a school means that it is unlikely to have PAUSD students in any of these schools for at least 3 years. We are suffering from increasing enrollment and with all the new housing this is only going to get worse, particularly as when empty nesters or older people move out, families are moving in.

Look forward to finding out more about how the middle and high school will both operate.

Posted by Katie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm

The history of enrollment in Palo Alto Schools has fluctuated quite a bit over the years; at one time it was 15,000 then it dropped to 7,500. Yes, enrollment is increasing right now but there is no guarantee that it will continue to increase indefinitely.

The School District is rightfully taking a very cautious approach towards future enrollment projections. It could very well drop again in which case predicting that enrollment will increase into the indefinite future could be a hugely expensive mistake.

Using the last Bond measure to increase the size of the existing schools was economically a smart move.

Posted by About Time, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 8:30 pm

About time they seriously considered a new high school...Paly and Gunn are both ridiculously crowded, and in a couple years they'll be maxed out.

We care about the teenagers in our community--smaller schools, and more staff members to help them through such a difficult time period, is one of the most valuable things we can give them as a community. I just hope that this new high school will be big enough.

Posted by W. Tallen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm

This is a great new school for the Greenmeadow area and its wonderful their community is working toward bettering the situation -But many of the children under this plan would be without the things that make a high school experience football teams, bands and reputation, bussing is possible.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2012 at 5:40 am

I appreciate that PAUSD is thinking outside the box. It could have been easy to just say we're putting a new (one) school and be done with it.

Flexible space is a very good idea.

Posted by guest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2012 at 10:00 am

Tree People,

Take a look at old photographs and ranchero maps (indicating vegetation) of this area from the 1800s, prior to any development. The natural state of the Palo Alto area is with far, far fewer trees than there are today. That's why El Palo Alto stood out as landmark.

The endless debates in this town over trees reflects little more than residents searching for relevance in mid-life.

Posted by BuilditBig, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Why not just build multistory buildings that can accomodate more people, combine more of the elementary school with high school vs middle and high school. If you combine the middle school with the high school you are going to have a lot of influence coming down from high schoolers and very interesting middle schoolers

Posted by PA watch, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm

About Time,
Yes, Paly and Gunn are ridiculously crowded, but unfortunately, a lot of the Measure A money that could have been spent on more improvements is going to EXPANDING Gunn and Paly to be huge schools ala SoCal.

I applaud the board for moving forward with this, it's very forward thinking. I only wish they would put it all together strategically with the Gunn and Paly plans instead of planning to just ask the community for more money when the time comes. Plus, the opportunity then was lost to improve Gunn and Paly more instead of overbuilding. (Paly, though, needed some of that "overbuilding" regardless, Gunn, not so much.)

I don't know why people are whining about needing Cubberley as a community center. We just spent $40 million building a community center a few blocks away at Mitchell Park. Why couldn't they see this coming? Many of us felt the lack of allowance for community input to the new community center hurt the final plan (versus the library, for which there was lots of input), particularly the failure to plan any kind of real performance space on this side of town, with the looming prospect of losing the performance space at Cubberley for the city as it reverted back to a necessary high school.

BuilditBig - Why not build multistory? This is not a home construction flip for profit, this is a school, and in school construction, multistory is by far the most expensive way to build and maintain, you only do it if you have no other choice, like at Ohlone. (Or, if money is no object, such as in the Gunn and Paly Measure A expansions.) Expanding to Cubberley could actually let us build more and save more, because it would allow us to go single story.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm

They should make the high school a choice school. This has been floated for a long time and it makes sense. If it is a choice school, it avoids arguments over redrawing boundaries, and allows the district to take students from both Gunn and Paly areas, giving them total control of the population numbers at all three high schools and allowing them to bring down the numbers at Gunn and Paly, and keep the numbers at all three schools within an optimal range. Any good choice option will make it an exclusive choice, even just for a smaller school, every choice program in town has a waiting list and this would be no different. The Cubberley site is very central for students coming from both areas.

Another really interesting prospect is if there could be specialty classes available on semester bases, kind of like community colleges, for kids from both campuses to attend, allowing the district to bring certain kinds of instruction to the Cubberley site, and again, relieve the Paly and Gunn campuses of ultra large populations at any given time but serving the whole community. But this would take a whole other level of planning and coordination -- could be done, though.

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm

The third high school as a choice school is an intelligent proposal. Hopefully the school district would consider this option.

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2012 at 11:19 am

Why not start rebuilding existing schools. Multistory buildings anyone? Will be much cheaper (I heard that schools are broke?) and preserve trees and space? This concept is never mentioned. Why?

Posted by Palo Verde Mom, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm

We live a block north of Colorado Ave so now the high school for my two boys are Paly (the elementary school is Palo Verde). My older one will go to high school in 2019. I personally don't want him to go the new high school in Cubberly because I think Paly, as a high school with over 100 yrs of history, have many advantages over a brand new one.

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I was around in 1979 when Cubberley closed. As a friend of mine said the moment a bond measure was passed to build Gunn High School, that was the death of Cubberley because a lot of Parents immediately transferred their high school students to Gunn.

Unless the PAUSD creates defined high school boundaries no one will want their children to leave Gunn or Paly to attend Cubberley.

Posted by resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm

If most people don't want their kids to attend the third new high school, what is the point of spending millions to create this school? It might make more sense to add more buildings to the existing Gunn/Paly campus, and reduce City's investment on high school expansion. I for one would not want my kids to attend the new high school either.

Posted by person, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Why not lease this place out to a few private schools? There are so many private schools in the area that are growing out of their current space or have leases expiring.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

This is an EXTREMELY valuable space and location -- just outstanding -- and PAUSD and the City of PA should NOT hand this over to private school(s) or a miscellany of individuals and nonprofits. That's ridiculous!
It bears very close study and I don't know the exact mix or plan that is best or most suitable for PAUSD and/or the City but the overall school district needs and overall city needs prevail over specialty interests. I am sorry Foothill College was not included, however.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm


The two-story building at Ohlone is FAR from optimum. It only happened because the board was too lazy to actually get around to opening Garland. Ohlone's now a mess of a mega-school--at least they're finally removing some of the cubicles so the 600(!) kids have somewhere to play.

Treehugger types,

Cubberly was built as a school site and has been kept as a potential school site. The trees, by the way, are mostly on the perimeter of the site--so I don't see them being impacted one way or another. Have you actually been there, or is this a knee-jerk reaction to any new construction?

AND, if anybody's noticed the push for denser housing in the city, it's idiotic to pretend that enrollment's going to drop anytime soon. Particularly given the issues with school funding in non-basic-aid districts.

I think a smaller choice high school would be a good thing--plenty of us would love an alternative to the high-stress overcrowded environments at Gunn and Paly. Others would love the focus of a baccalaureate program. I'd be find with a regular neighborhood high school, but a choice option would mean those who paid a premium for their namebrand school wouldn't have meltdowns at board meetings.

Of course, when the high school turns out to be fine, there will then be people upset when they can't get into the nearby high school because it's a choice school. (I mean, really, what are the odds that any high school in Palo Alto's going to be subpar?)

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Choice school is best the option. Let parents/students who prefer small school environment to sign up for the new high school. Everyone would be happy.

Also City should think about how to differentiate this school (from Paly and Gunn) by creating advanced bio-tech or software programming class options by partnering with DeAnza College.

Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm

To PA Watch: I doubt if the new community center will offer the same amount of facilities that Cubberly has. Cubberly has many many dancing classes, basketball, aerobics exercize classes, music classes, community meetings, there were even square dancing prior to library moving in, all going on at the same time! many at the same time! the new community center prolly will only have two rooms (not 20 plus like cubberly has)

Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:37 pm

To parent: Your idea of a specialty high school is interesting. but how is Cubberly centrally located? Its on the most southern end of the city.

Posted by Katie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Cubberley is not centrally located it's on the furthest south-east corner of the City. Geographically centrally located we should build a school on Stanford land on Deer Creek Road, which Stanford offered to give the PAUSD when Terman was re-opened.

Two members of the School Board have said the School District will not need a third High School for 5 to 10 years. Enrollment numbers don't justify a new High School until sometime in the 2020s. In fact the School District appears to be backing off this whole process because it's obvious they want to City to lease Cubberley for another 5 years.

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