The district currently owns 27 acres at Cubberley, which it largely leases to the city, while the city owns the remaining 8 acres. The letter outlines the conditions under which the school district would be willing to make a deal that transfers some of its acreage to the city.
The community debate over Cubberley has flicked on and off for decades, with both the district and the city agreeing that the center needs urgent upgrades but finding themselves at odds over the path forward. In 2019, school and city officials partnered on a planning process for Cubberley that resulted in a master plan calling for the center's wholescale redevelopment and construction of a new wellness center, performing arts center and other community amenities.
But despite a surge of community engagement and initial council enthusiasm, those plans quickly fizzled. School district leaders clarified that they wouldn't pay for the redevelopment of the existing gym and theater, citing laws that prohibit them from passing a school bond for projects that are not explicitly tied to education.
The district also has been adamant about the need to preserve some Cubberley land for a future high school. Despite decreasing student enrollment in recent years, district officials want to be prepared for a potential influx of students in the future.
City staff, for their part, have been making incremental repairs to Cubberley facilities while gradually scaling down their expectations for redevelopment, limited to the city-owned portion of the center.
Despite the continuous hurdles to collaboration, in 2021, the school board formally decided that it would set aside 20 acres of land for a theoretical future high school but remain open to negotiating with the city over the remaining 7 acres.
The school board's March 10 letter reiterates its interest in leasing at least 7 acres of land to the city to enable a more ambitious redevelopment. The letter makes it clear that while the district would prefer to retain 20 acres for future school development, it will "not automatically foreclose a deal that might include a transfer of more than 7 acres."
"Furthermore, nothing in such a deal would preclude the City from continuing to lease the remaining acreage from the District until such a time as the need arises for a new school," Dharap wrote.
The future of Cubberley, a former high school campus built in 1956 and shuttered as a school in 1979, has been a regular topic of debate in recent City Council and school board elections, with most candidates pledging commitment to the center's redevelopment. It has also been a topic of occasional discussion at meetings of the City/School Liaison Committee, which includes council members Julie Lythcott-Haims and Pat Burt and district board members Dharap and Todd Collins.
At the March 16 meeting of the committee, Dharap informed other members about the district's letter, which he said hopes will give a clear indication of what the board is thinking and potential next steps.
"This was an opportunity we felt to give the council and the city a clear indication of where the board's thinking is and what ??" from our perspective ??" would be the next step in moving forward on Cubberley development," Dharap said.
Dharap told the committee that the district only has two main constraints: wanting to retain roughly 20 acres and not being able to use bond revenue to fund a community center.
He noted that the district does not want to repeat mistakes of the past, when it gave up land during a period of declining enrollment only to find itself in need of a site for a new school years later.
"We don't want to put future boards in that position, especially considering the way land prices are here and land availability," Dharap said at the meeting.
He noted that 20 acres is not a fixed number when it comes to planning for a future school. The letter also states that the district is "flexible about the exact location of the City's acreage based on the needs of the City's planned development, subject only to a few limited considerations for the future school site like street access and neighborhood proximity."
"We are also open to the form of the deal ??" whether it's a land swap, ground lease, or some other vehicle for land transfer," the letter states.
In an interview, Dharap said that he believes the next step is for the city to come to the school board with one or multiple proposals for a land deal.
Council members welcomed the overtures, with both Lythcott-Haims and Burt saying they are enthusiastic about renewing the conversation over Cubberley. Burt said he believes the district's proposed framework represents a reasonable approach, given the wide fluctuations in student enrollment and the difficulty of predicting future needs.
"Reserving those 20 acres for future district needs seems really prudent and the framework for how the city may swap or acquire an additional 7 acres and the flexibility of the location on the site all seem like a framework that was badly needed and now enables us to move forward," Burt said at the meeting.
Lythcott-Haims, who chairs the committee, said she was thrilled to receive the district's invitation to develop Cubberley proposals. The tone and tenor of the letter, she said in an interview, is "Let's be cooperative in the spirit of co-creation."
"My impression was that the Cubberley conversation has been marked by expectation on what one side should do, or give to, or give up to the other," Lythcott-Haims said. "My impression from board member Dharap's letter is that we might be in a new mindplace of what we can do together for this community."
She said she believes Cubberley would be a perfect place for community amenities like a wellness center, nonprofit spaces, artists studios, a cafe and other destinations where residents can gather. She also wants to renew a conversation about developing housing at Cubberley, a proposal that encountered community opposition during the 2019 master planning process. One possible idea, she said, is to develop mixed-use areas where artists can both live and work and that can also have community amenities like workshops and "makerspaces."
She acknowledged that the city still has a lot of work to do before a plan comes together. In the near term, the council will have to determine whether to form a new committee to develop Cubberley proposals or allow one of its existing standing committees to tackle the project.
"We seem to finally have in place a critical mass of leaders who are ready to burnish this gem that Cubberley is," Lythcott-Haims said.
Read the school district's full letter:
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