Designs for Palo Alto schools debated
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 1996

SCHOOLS: Designs for Palo Alto schools debated

Board expected to approve designs for Paly, Gunn, JLS and Jordan on Nov. 4

by Elizabeth Darling

Architects last week presented design plans for projects at four schools--including new high school science buildings, and a much debated plan for a new Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School campus and a new cafetorium at Jordan. At Palo Alto High, plans are in the works for a new science building near the old tower building. The building will have stucco walls, with a pitched roof made of painted metal, instead of tile, which is the trademark of Paly buildings. Designers say that tile has become too expensive.

The building design, which was presented to the school board Tuesday, will otherwise blend with other Paly buildings. The building will house science labs, business and computer labs, and will have a central preparation area as well as a classroom that can be shared by technology and science classes.

Gunn High School will also get an essentially new science building, in the current BH building near Arastradero Road. That building will be gutted and renovated with a similar layout to Paly's new building. A new wing will extend along Arastradero Road, and the building will also have a courtyard. It will have 32 lab stations in each classroom and up to 35 desks.

The designers are "very strongly mimicking" existing buildings on campus, said architect Jim Woods.

Architects are still wrestling with the placement of a new cafetorium at Jordan Middle School, and they may decide to just renovate the existing one. Classrooms in two wings (A and B) at the back of the campus will be enlarged and three more rooms in the H wing will be converted back into classrooms. This will bring the total number of classrooms at Jordan to 35, the same number as the new JLS.

The school board also got a second look at controversial plans for the new JLS Middle School, to be built on the old Ohlone School site on Charleston Road. The new two-story school will have a large ring of classrooms surrounding a library and courtyard, and a long, curved wing along one side.

The design of the two-story school has aroused concern among Greenmeadow residents who live along one side of the school property. Wood said architects are adjusting the plans, moving the long wing farther away from property lines and building second-story windows high enough so that they don't look down into people's yards.

"We are taking photos of the site from (residents') yards for the purpose of building a computer model of the school," said Kathleen Wood, program manager for the $143 million school bond construction project. "This will be very valuable to us." She plans to show the computer model to the board Nov. 4, the night the school board members are expected to approve all four school design plans.

An acoustics engineer hired by the district is studying neighbors' noise concerns and will be writing a letter to the school board. Preliminary results show that "the building design is essentially neutral," said architect Woods. The placement of the library will help to break up sound from the courtyard, he said, and the arc of the long wing will also decrease noise. Woods is also looking at the second-floor railing design, to respond to safety concerns raised by the board and the community.

In spite of the concessions, many neighbors still aren't satisfied. "I feel like you're turning a deaf ear to our very real environmental concerns," said South Court resident Marilyn Bauriedel, who wants architects to move the school even farther away from property lines (200 feet) instead of the current 120 feet.

The flexible steel frame construction of the school, Woods said, will allow walls to be moved easily and utilities to adjust to electrical and technological needs.

JLS Principal Joy Addison, who has taken part in design meetings, talked about the educational aspects. The plans call for two large group meeting areas, so, for example, two classes would be able to watch a video together, students could give presentations, or the school could hold its annual book fair. By adding a third music space, Addison said, "we don't need to plan to teach music in the cafetorium."

The new school will have a classroom for every teacher in academic programs such as English and math. The new configuration, Addison said, "will allow us to provide the kind of middle level education that is appropriate to bring us into the 21st century and give us flexibility."

Kathleen Wood said the district plans to submit the plans to the state after the Nov. 4 meeting requesting a categorical exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which exempts some projects such as school and hospital construction from having to complete an environmental impact report. Wood said the school district can qualify for the exemption because the existing buildings are not earthquake-resistant and the law allows such buildings to be demolished or renovated without such environmental reports.

"I feel like you're turning a deaf ear to our very real environmental concerns."--South Court resident Marilyn Bauriedel

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