Trustees ponder long-term plans for Paly, Gunn | March 20, 2009 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 20, 2009

Trustees ponder long-term plans for Paly, Gunn

Classroom space for growing student population is top priority

by Chris Kenrick

Overhauling Palo Alto's high schools to serve for the next 40 years was the prime topic for school board members Tuesday night.

Principals at both Gunn and Palo Alto high schools said they look forward to reconfigured campuses in which academic departments are housed together rather than scattered wherever space permits, as is currently the case.

New two-story classroom buildings on both campuses will allow for enrollment growth as well as preserve green space, planners said.

By March 31, school trustees could approve master plans for both campuses, including approximate locations of building footprints.

And if all goes well, the first new buildings could be ready as early as 2012, according to school district officials.

Remaking the two campuses will take a significant portion of the funds generated by Measure A, the $378 million facilities bond passed by voters last June.

Students and school district officials said they are eager to get started.

"We need to move forward," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said. "We have some very difficult design work to do."

At Gunn, the earliest phase of proposed construction includes two new classroom buildings, a new gym, modernization of the existing gym and a reconfigured parking and drop-off area.

Phase 2 includes a performing-arts building to accommodate the school's bursting band and orchestra programs, modernization of Spangenberg Theatre, a special-education building and an addition to the science building.

Phase 3 includes renovation of the Spangenberg lobby and an amphitheater.

"Our highest priority is teaching space for our growing population of students," Gunn Principal Noreen Likins told the school board.

At Paly, phase 1 calls for new football bleachers, refurbishing the multi-use field on the Churchill Avenue side of campus and early design work for a new, 600-seat theater that will be built later.

Phase 2 involves new classroom buildings, a media arts center and a science lab that could displace teacher offices in the science building.

Phase 3 involves actual construction of the theater as well as a library renovation.

Phases 4 and 5 include the career tech center, renovations to existing classroom buildings (many of which were constructed in the early 1970s), a new gym, renovations to the existing gym and renovations to the historic Tower Building. The final phase will also involve redesigning the quad, which will be the site of temporary classrooms during construction.

The proposed master plans and phasing are the products of extensive meetings on both campuses in which students, faculty, administrators, parents and architects participated.

The proposed order of construction was determined primarily by student needs for classroom space, according to school principals and architect Erwin Lee of DLM Deems Lewis McKinley.

Eager to get on with schematic drawings for phase 1, administrators hope to get school board approval of the general master plans and first-phase construction at the board's March 31 meeting.

Trustees Tuesday had questions, many involving flexibility of the plans, community involvement, budgeting and parity between the campuses. The plans anticipate the expenditure of the entire $378 million facilities bond measure passed last year, district officials said.

A large contingent of students, teachers and parents from the Paly theater and music programs asked board members to take special care with the school's new 600-seat theater, currently planned to be built next to Embarcadero Road.

After suffering for decades with poor facilities, the theater group asked for early planning of the new theater and assurance that it would contain state-of-the-art equipment to facilitate high quality music, theater and theater tech programs.

"We have not just nice programs -- we have world-class programs," Michael Najar, Paly's choir director and music teacher, said. "We need to have facilities that match our students' hard work."

Parents from the Gunn Sports Boosters asked trustees to consider moving a field house to a higher priority on the construction schedule.

Several parents of preschool and younger children asked more fundamental questions about the long-term plans.

With enrollments at both campuses projected to exceed 2,000, A.J. Lumsdaine asked trustees to seriously consider re-opening Cubberley as a high school.

"What level of input would convince the board of the need to consider the Cubberley question?" Lumsdaine asked. "What do I need to bring to you -- a petition with 1,000 signatures? Most parents don't realize the implications of what's going on right now."

Paly alumna and preschool parent Kirsten Essenmacher presented a petition with 80 signatures suggesting three-story buildings, saying it would free up more open space, improve energy efficiency and allow the new theater to be placed farther in from Embarcadero.

Preschool parent Kirstin Sego argued that it is too early to approve a master plan.

"There's a large sector of this community that's really unaware this is going on," Sego said. "I'm not sure the dialogue has really happened. It's premature to be approving a master plan when, from the members of the community I've spoken with, there hasn't been enough work done."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2009 at 9:50 am

It makes a lot of sense for elementary and preschool parents to get involved in this because although they have very little experience with the present campuses at the high schools, these changes will affect their kids, not the kids of present hs parents.

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy Crewdson
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2009 at 10:37 am

Just a wording change suggestion. At Paly it is a Performing Arts Center, not a "theater". The space will be used for concerts of vocal and instrumental music, as well as staged theater performances. "At Paly, phase one calls for new football bleachers, refurbishing the multi-use field on the Churchill Avenue side of campus and early design work for a new, 600-seat theater that will be built later"

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2009 at 9:25 am

Better hold off on any football bleachers at Paly or anything else at the eastern edge of the campus with this HSR debacle pending.