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Pinewood School redevelopment plan receives final approval


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A plan to redevelop and modernize Pinewood School’s Middle Campus received its final approval Sept. 11 after the Los Altos City Council voted unanimously in favor of the project.

The redevelopment plan calls for replacing six on-campus buildings with a U-shaped design of five one-story structures, including classrooms and a multipurpose room, totaling more than 17,000 square feet. The plan would preserve the school’s theater and carriage house, as well as its two-story administration building, which previously served as the home of school founders Gwen and Victor Riches.

In addition, the former headmaster’s home at 357 Fremont Ave., purchased by the school in 2007, is incorporated in the design to house some of the new structures and a two-lane driveway to alleviate vehicle queuing along Fremont Avenue. The new driveway, according to Pinewood President Scott Riches, will accommodate up to 40 cars on-site for queuing, a 30-car increase from the school’s present driveway configuration.

“This design provides solutions to the neighborhood,” Councilwoman Megan Satterlee said. “I think without this design, you don’t get those solutions. That’s the basis of how I’m able to make the findings to move forward with this project.”

Riches told the Town Crier he was pleased with the unanimous vote, reiterating that the two-lane driveway in the plan will help solve the longstanding issue of traffic congestion along Fremont Avenue.

“We know it’s been an issue, especially for the neighbors on Fremont (Avenue),” Riches said of the school’s car queuing problem. “That was one of the biggest reasons to use the adjacent lot (the headmaster’s home), to locate that queuing onsite. That was probably the most critical issue, and a goal of ours – to get as many cars as we can off the street.”

While the design received universal support from the council, nearby neighbor Jean Wilke was one of three residents who expressed concern about the school’s intentions. Wilke told the council the school’s redevelopment would lead to an increase in student enrollment. He added that an increase would negate the new driveway’s purpose of keeping vehicle queuing on the school site.

“We already know what (the school) does to us,” Wilke told the council. “We want to know what it does for us.”

However, a condition for approval noted in a city staff report, the school agreed to cap enrollment at its current level of 175 students at the Middle Campus.

“Enrollment will stay exactly as it is now,” Riches told the council. “There will be no increase pre- or post-(construction).”

As for a project timeline, Riches said construction for the two-phase plan likely won’t begin until 2014, allowing the school time to fundraise for its new construction.

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