It’s been a long time coming, but it shouldn’t be much longer before the Los Altos School District reveals concrete details instead of vague aspirations regarding its search for a 10th school site.
Randy Kenyon, assistant superintendent for business services, updated district trustees on the search for a new site at their Oct. 24 board meeting.
While reiterating that “time and again, we’ve heard from our community that acquiring a 10th site is our best option,” Kenyon began his presentation with a nod to previous community meetings that had called for reconfiguring campuses on current sites to accommodate growing enrollment and Bullis Charter School.
Kenyon outlined the district staff’s examination of the pros and cons of purchasing a new site versus making do with its current footprint, focusing on factors such as flexibility, traffic and costs.
The argument for purchasing a 10th site
Kenyon argued that an additional school site would not only enable the district to accommodate the underserved population north of El Camino Real, but also would afford greater flexibility in managing the populations of 10 schools spread across nine sites.
Traffic was presented as a factor of interest to the district and the city of Mountain View. District officials contend that spreading school commutes across more sites and building a campus in the Crossings neighborhood off San Antonio Road, whose students currently attend Covington School in Los Altos, would mitigate traffic congestion.
The cost of purchasing a 10th site could be significantly less than reconfiguring a current campus, with park funds from the city of Mountain View and use of transfer of development rights (TDR).
A TDR, used to exchange the right to develop one plot of land to another, could be a windfall for the district. Using the example of a hypothetical 8-acre parcel with 644,688 developable square feet of space, school buildings would take up only approximately 75,000 square feet. The development rights of the remaining 569,688 square feet could then be sold at $130 per square foot, netting the district an estimated $74 million to offset the cost of the purchase. Adding that $74 million to the $23 million in park funds the city of Mountain View has tentatively offered, the cost of an 8-acre site could drop from $120 million to $23 million.
Purchasing a site in the San Antonio corridor would not only bring a new school to the area, but also much-needed green space.
“The city of Mountain View is anxious to have open space in the area,” said Kenyon, echoing desires expressed by Mountain View City Councilmembers and residents who weighed in during a study session on the issue Oct. 4.
However, the third rail that even the city of Mountain View was wary of touching remained unanswered at the board meeting: whether a new site would house a neighborhood school or become the new home of Bullis Charter School.
Kenyon revealed that district staff has been negotiating with potential TDR buyers over the past few months. After securing commitments from them, the district will share the information at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting.
But the big-ticket item that should appear on the Nov. 13 meeting’s agenda is a list of specific sites district officials are considering.
Another ball still in the air is the process the Los Altos School District and the city of Mountain View are working to establish since their Oct. 4 study session. Representatives of the district and Mountain View continue to hammer out the terms of a memorandum of understanding and a letter of intent should a deal be imminent.
While the timeline presented at last week’s board meeting stated that the district and the city of Mountain View would be working through Oct. 27, Kenyon told the Town Crier that the process would likely extend into coming weeks.
“Better to take an extra week or two to get things right after months and months of preparation to get to this point,” he said.
If all goes as planned, the ball would be in the Mountain View City Council’s court. Councilmembers would have to approve the use of a TDR, which likely would occur at their Dec. 5 meeting.
Looking ahead to next year, district officials anticipate needing six to eight weeks to solidify funds for a purchase – bringing into question the possibility that Measure N bond funds would not be sufficient to cover costs.
During the board’s discussion, trustees reflected on the choices of their predecessors and noted that a new campus would rectify some past mistakes.
“In the wake of Prop. 13 and the baby bust, the district sold off three or four school sites. I think everyone in the community agrees that was a great loss, and that if we had a time machine, we’d go back and fix it,” Trustee Bryan Johnson said. “Today, in Mountain View, they’re trying to address the housing crisis in this area. They’re building new neighborhoods … and they’ve realized that this part of Mountain View, of our school district, is underserved in this area. They are giving us a little bit of a time machine to go back and make sure that we have a school and open space at the core of this developing neighborhood.”
While local residents’ response to the district’s timeline proved mostly positive, not everyone was onboard.
Former Trustee Tammy Logan praised the district’s work, but she pointed to a Creative Facilities Solutions forum Sept. 27 that advocated for reconfiguring the district’s current footprint. According to Logan, architect Bill Gould of Artik Art & Architecture, a firm that specializes in school architecture, estimated the cost of sharing an existing campus site at $83 million to $90 million, but noted that the estimates relied on data at least 18 months old. She recommended that the board prepare an updated estimate and disseminate the data in the community to bolster its case for a new site.
While agreeing that a new school in the area would benefit residents, Los Altos Hills resident David Roode took to the podium to voice his concerns. Foremost was his fear that the district could invoke eminent domain in the process of acquiring a site.
“If you can negotiate a deal, that’s one thing,” he said. “But if you use eminent domain, you can get a subsequent judgment for tens of millions of dollars that you’ll have to compensate the landowner for after the fact.”
Crossings resident Nancy Morimoto, on the other hand, said she was eager to see the district proceed.
“I just wanted to remind you all that we are super excited to see this win-win-win scenario with open space being saved here in Los Altos, more open space in the San Antonio Area and a school – whether it’s a charter school or a neighborhood school – that will serve many students in the neighborhood,” she said.
Steven Freiberg, president of the Greater San Antonio Community Association, seconded Morimoto’s desire for progress.
“I’d like to make a strong recommendation that the Los Altos School District move quickly on this project,” he said. “There is considerable interest in having fields and facilities. This part of Mountain View is, frankly, underserved.”