It's time to consider existing land options for 10th school

Since the passage of Measure N 31 months ago, the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees has focused exclusively on finding new land suitable for building a 10th school.

While we applaud its efforts, students continue to wait for better facilities. Projecting future district enrollment has always proven to be a difficult exercise. Given the uncertainty, how can we be sure that the best option is to use taxpayer funds to purchase new land during a local real estate boom? It is time to expand our solution space.

Our community can explore existing land and new land solutions simultaneously. In fact, it is the only responsible thing to do. The prudent use of taxpayer funds depends on comparing the merits of the best options for both. The need for a 10th school sooner rather than later also means we should be examining all feasible options now. Many high-quality nearby schools house students on less land per student. Freeing up existing school district land through two-story, state of-the-art modernization could provide room for other creative community benefits, such as more recreational areas residents can use after school hours.

Many assume that adding a 10th school adjacent to an existing school at a large Los Altos School District site would negatively impact students already on that site. In fact, their educational experience will be enhanced with the right solution. Well-designed multistory buildings for both schools could provide students with more and better space, updated with many of the technological and seismic improvements already on the Measure N wish list.

Rather than spending critical dollars on the purchase of a large new site, we can provide major community benefits at much lower cost by augmenting an existing site through strategic land swaps, modest purchases of adjacent land or easements. Importantly, these solutions would provide two completely modernized schools instead of just one, and the remaining Measure N funds only need to be spread among eight schools.

Initial criteria we propose for an existing land solution:

• It efficiently and cost effectively adds state-of-the-art capacity.

• It improves educational experiences for students of both schools at the modernized site.

• It does not close any existing school or require new attendance boundaries.

• It reserves substantial Measure N funds for upgrades at the other eight schools.

• It minimizes disruption to existing students and the surrounding community.

The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees is already exhaustively looking for the best new land option for a 10th site – we are calling for a parallel community effort to formulate the best options relying substantially on existing land. We want a broad group of community members to help us brainstorm and refine such solutions. These solutions can then serve as a benchmark for any proposed purchase of a new site to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

We will be reaching out to the community in the coming weeks seeking input and suggestions for existing land solutions. Every voice is needed. All we ask is that everyone be open-minded, respectful of others and interested in solving this community problem in a way that benefits all of our students.

Co-authors and supporters of this column include John Phelps, chairman of the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors; Lou Becker, former mayor of Los Altos; Ginny Lear, former district board president; John Radford, Los Altos Hills City Councilman; Jane B. Reed, former mayor of Los Altos; John A. Reed, 49-year Los Altos resident; and Randy Salim and Amanda Oakson, Los Altos School District parents.

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