District wants Stanford land for school

Publication Date: Wednesday Dec 2, 1998

SCHOOLS: District wants Stanford land for school

Officials fear proposed university housing would put elementaries over capacity

by Charlie Breitrose

Palo Alto school officials are hoping Stanford will be a responsible developer. As the university embarks on as many as three separate campus housing projects over the next few years, in addition to the already approved Stanford West housing, the Palo Alto Unified School District could see as many as 500 more students--enough for a whole elementary school, said school board member John Tuomy.

At a Nov. 12 town hall meeting on campus, Tuomy made a public request for Stanford to set aside land for such a new school.

"The community has been dealing with Stanford on a project-by-project basis," Tuomy said. "If you look at the big picture, all the projects put together will mean at least 500 more students in the district."

Superintendent Don Phillips said the district would not ask Stanford to build the school, just to keep the land available if needed.

The university is already poised to build Stanford West, a 628-unit apartment complex along with 500 units of senior housing on Sand Hill Road.

Even before Tuomy's statement, the school district in meetings with university officials had voiced its concerns about Stanford housing. Tuomy said his purpose in raising the issue at the town hall meeting was to make sure the public heard it.

Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations, who was at the town hall meeting, said the university will keep the school district's needs in mind.

"We're talking about housing that will happen in the quite distant future," Horton said. "We're trying to figure out what needs the school district will have."

Stanford's board of trustees would have to approve any move to set aside university land for school district use, Horton said.

Besides Stanford West, the university has three housing projects planned, which it intends to build in phases. The first will add 480 units for single graduate students in Escondido Village. Horton said half the units will be complete by 2000, the rest the following year.

The second and third phases are still in the planning stage. The university would like to add 250 units of faculty housing, followed by another 200 units for residents at the medical school.

"We think that's what might have some impact on schools," Horton said. "Up to half of the medical student units may be for families."

Even without any extra students from Stanford, the school district is nearly full. "We are in a position right now where we will not be able to serve very many more students in the district," Tuomy said. "We don't have any place to put 500 more students."

Most of Palo Alto's 12 elementary schools range from five to seven acres in size.

The district has additional sites that it leases out, and over time they can be taken back for district use. The former Garland Elementary School on North California Avenue, which is on an annual lease to two private schools, could be used for a district elementary school or as expansion space for the adjacent Jordan Middle School. The former Greendell Elementary School on Middlefield Road houses many of the district's special education programs; it has been discussed as an alternative for a 13th elementary school if Garland cannot be used. The Fremont Hills school site is leased to Pinewood School through the spring of 2003.

In addition to the children of Stanford families who move into the new campus housing, the district expects other new students to swell district rolls as an indirect result of the university's projects, Tuomy said. "A lot of single students share apartments and houses in Palo Alto," Tuomy said. "When they vacate, many of the homeowners will rent to families with children."

A new district school on Stanford property would not be the first on university land. Palo Alto and Gunn high schools, as well as Nixon and Escondido elementary schools, are located on sites that the district leases from Stanford, paying a token rent.

Children living in Stanford generally attend either Nixon or Escondido for elementary school. Both of these schools, however, are nearing capacity. "Nixon is getting up toward its limit," Phillips said. "Escondido has the (Spanish) Immersion program. We could look at moving that,but where would it go?"

Tuomy and Phillips said the school district supports the Stanford projects, but they want to make sure it is not kept in the dark.

"We just want to be part of the conversation as the projects go forward," Phillips said. 

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