Schools, city should share Cubberley, committee says | March 15, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 15, 2013

Schools, city should share Cubberley, committee says

With efficient design, joint use, a new high school and community center are possible

by Chris Kenrick

A new high school — as well as a comprehensive community center — at Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto would be possible if the Palo Alto school district and city government work toward a common vision, a community advisory committee says.

In its long-awaited report, the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee conveyed a sense of urgency for the city and school district to develop a joint-use "master plan" over the next six years for the Middlefield Road facility. The group advocates the accommodation of both community uses and possible third comprehensive high school in Palo Alto.

An efficient reconfiguration of the space — either single-story or multi-story — would allow Cubberley's 35 acres to be used for both purposes, with elements of shared use, the committee said.

But time is of the essence, members said, warning that continuation of the status quo without proactive planning could close off possibilities for the future.

The committee penciled in the cost of a new high school — which it said should come with an agreement for joint use — at $100 million to $150 million, possibly to be financed through a school-district general obligation bond in 2024.

The school district has been vague as to when it may need Cubberley. But citing recent, growing K-12 enrollment, the district says it may need part or all of the 35-acre campus in the next 10 or 20 years.

Palo Alto's two existing high schools are being renovated to hold 2,300 students each. Current enrollment is 1,842 at Gunn High School and 1,949 at Palo Alto High School.

The district is seeking to expand middle-school capacity through possible acquisition of property adjacent to Terman Middle School but has indicated it could need at least part of Cubberley for that purpose should that plan fall through.

Though unanimous on most questions, the Community Advisory Committee was split on whether the city should renew its lease of Cubberley from the school district for five years or for 10 years. Under current terms, the city pays the school district about $7 million a year.

"The arguments for a shorter (five-year) lease typically revolved around the need to create pressure to get the long-term planning done in a timely manner," the committee stated.

"It was felt that a shorter lease would have the effect of 'putting the collective feet of the city and school district in the fire.'"

The group said it is premature to include financing of a long-term plan for Cubberley in a 2014 ballot measure contemplated by the city.

The 28-member committee, co-chaired by former Mayor Mike Cobb and former school-board President Mandy Lowell, worked over a nine-month period to generate a lengthy, multi-volume report. Committee members included other former council members and school board members as well as a range of community activists.

Each of four subcommittees — on school needs, community needs, facilities and finance — generated detailed reports, which are included in the full committee's final report.

The committee studied public joint-use projects in a number of other communities and concluded such an arrangement would be the best solution for Palo Alto.

It recommended that any development be scheduled in phases to preserve public use of at least part of the site through the process.

The advisory committee stressed a sense of urgency on joint, long-term plans for Cubberley, whose nearly 60-year-old buildings are in need of replacement or significant upgrades.

"Kicking the can down the road (by renewing the lease with no long-term plan) is clearly not a solution," the committee concluded.

"In fact it could have the consequence of eliminating possible solutions and exacerbating the existing problems."

The committee was to present its findings Thursday night, March 14, to a joint meeting of the City Council and the Board of Education.


A summary of the Cubberley meeting, which is taking place after the Weekly's press deadline, will be posted on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at