LASD aims to approve facilities master plan this school year

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Loyola School’s library is housed in a portable building. The draft facilities master plan the Los Altos School District’s Board of Trustees is considering calls for a new library and technology building to be built.

The Los Altos School District is aiming to approve a master plan by the end of the school year, which lays out how to address various facilities needs the district faces.

The district’s board of trustees held a study session last week to review an updated draft of the plan and hear a presentation from district business manager Randy Kenyon and Lisa Gelfand, the district’s architect. According to Kenyon, the goal of a facilities master plan is to document a district’s various needs and provide a road map for how to address them.

“It embodies our basic goals and it outlines what our assets are, what resources we have, what our needs are, in particular, and how do we try to meet those needs,” Kenyon told trustees.

A draft of the master plan was developed in 2014 but never formally adopted by the board. In November 2014, voters passed Measure N, a $150 million bond.

According to Kenyon, although Measure N can help pay for some of the needs in the master plan, such as building a 10th school, the plan is far broader and will require more funding than the bond provides.

“It is not a plan for how to spend Measure N dollars,” he said. “It is a long-term plan; it’s going to change over time, probably, as needs change. Measure N is just one aspect of how to meet the needs.”

The master plan lays out nearly $224 million in existing campus improvements, as well as an additional estimated $60 million to $90 million to build a new school. That figure doesn’t include the cost of the land itself.

The district is purchasing a 10th school site at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive in Mountain View for $155 million. Much of that cost is being offset by money from the city of Mountain View, as well as the sale of unused development rights. If all goes according to plan, the district expects the net purchase price to total approximately $28 million. The district also expects to receive rental income from the site’s current tenants for the next few years, which will further offset the price.

The combination of the cost to buy the land and build a school on it, plus the $224 million in various other changes throughout the district, far exceeds the $150 million Measure N bond authorization.

“We have more needs than we have money. We have to look at future funding sources, not just what we have now,” Kenyon said. “The $150 million Measure N bond authorization will only take us so far. Future bond authorizations are one option.”

Board President Jessica Speiser said although the district will eventually require more money to cover the needs laid out in the master plan, decisions must be made on a few important topics first.

“We really need to figure out what we’re doing with the 10th site, how we’re solving (Bullis Charter School) facilities for the long term, before politically we’ll ever be able to pass any more bonds,” Speiser said at the meeting.

The last time the district formally adopted a master plan was in 1998, and later that year voters approved a bond that funded modernizations at the district’s schools. However, that bond wasn’t able to cover all of the projects detailed in the 1998 master plan, Kenyon said.

Various school needs

The new draft master plan, dubbed “Master Plan 2020,” the district is considering now aims to address “phase two” of the changes. It lays out improvements at each of the schools, as well as the district office.

The listed changes include upgrading or replacing buildings to meet current seismic and ventilation codes; upgrading or replacing certain libraries and multipurpose rooms; and building more permanent classrooms.

All but 25 of the district’s portables would be replaced with permanent construction. Currently, the district uses more than 150 portables, including those housing Bullis Charter School, Kenyon said. The district owns 25 and leases the rest.

The master plan attempts to create spaces that can adapt and change over time as educational needs shift, Gelfand said. Because classrooms switch uses not just year to year, but even throughout the day, she said flexibility is key.

“We really want every room to be able to do lots of different things,” she said.

The draft master plan also references future decisions that will significantly impact the district’s facilities needs.

Among these topics is deciding on a use for the 10th school. In the spring, the district and charter school unveiled a proposed 10-year agreement that would involve moving Egan Junior High School to the 10th site.

However, there was widespread outcry at the prospect of relocating Egan, with school district parents holding protests outside of schools and attending board meetings to express opposition to the agreement. Ultimately, the trustees decided to table the measure and conduct a community engagement process. The board is expected to receive a final report on that process in January.

The district is also considering switching to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model, from the existing seventh- and eighth-grade junior high system. The board has never voted on middle school conversion, though Speiser said she would personally favor a vote.

The path ahead

At last week’s study session, trustees asked various questions about the master planning process, however no formal decisions were made. According to Speiser, the goal of the study session was to make sure trustees understood the topic, especially because some of them weren’t on the board when it was last considered in 2014.

“A lot of us were just constituents at the time,” Speiser said.

At upcoming board meetings, she said the trustees would start to hammer out their plan going forward.

Among the items to be discussed is a new Facilities Master Plan Committee. The board initially considered approving appointments to the committee at a Nov. 12 meeting but pushed the decision off, in part to hold the study session first. In addition to deciding on the committee’s makeup, the board also will work to develop guidance for the committee about its role.

Both Speiser and Kenyon agreed that the goal is for the board to vote on a final master plan by the end of the school year.

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