Longtime Mountain View Whisman School District trustee Ellen Wheeler walked around Monta Loma Park last week, envisioning how its relatively small space, 5.67 acres, could be optimized to serve both the students and local residents who consider the school district-owned site their nearby park.
The park, located along Thompson Avenue, is easily accessible, with its open, well-kept field at the front of the property adjacent to school buildings inviting those who want to play soccer, walk dogs or simply sit out in the sun. Equally inviting are the tree-lined walking trails at the site’s edges and the playground facilities. Beyond the open space is a fenced-in baseball field, home to 300-400 participants of Mountain View Little League. Wheeler pointed to two entrances at the rear of the site, where visitors have easy access to the park.
The peaceful setting has been a source of conflict between neighbors and the school district over the past year, after the district initially proposed perimeter fencing around the entire site that would have cut off residents’ access to the open space during school hours.
“They tried to explain to us that since Monta Loma Park is the only meaningful green space in their nearby area, the park should not be fenced in, as was proposed in the original plans,” Wheeler noted.
Compromise takes shape
A potential solution is in the offing. The district board last month approved a proposal to hire an architect to reconfigure the school campus open space, striking a balance between the safety and security needs of students, teachers and parents and the access wishes of the neighboring park-lovers.
The district board agreed June 17 to elevate Monta Loma reconfiguration plans to a priority-one project and commit as much as $702,000 to hire an architect for designs. The district initially estimated the reconfiguration could cost as much as $11.1 million, with the expectation that the city of Mountain View would pay a substantial share of the expense. Separately, the city and school district are currently working on a new joint-use agreement for shared use of open space at all school sites.
Money for the plans would come from Measure T, a $259 million bond initiative voters approved last year. One of the selling points of the bond was that it would fund increased security measures. But pushback over fencing from the neighbors resulted in the formation of a working group, comprising residents and school and city officials. The group’s feedback prompted the latest proposal, approved by trustees 4-1.
Trustee Chris Chiang, the lone dissenting vote, wanted commitment from the school district to long-term city use "that isn't subject to unilateral future rescission of open space by the school district," he said. Absent that, Chiang felt the city would be less likely to pay for park changes.
Monta Loma parent Jill Rakestraw urged trustees not to overlook the safety issue – the reason for the perimeter fence discussions in the first place.
“I am very concerned that we still do not have a fence that encloses the interior of the campus,” she said. “I see this lost in the bigger discussion – I want to see it brought to the forefront. We need to create a safe perimeter, then worry about the design of the park.”
However, the board majority felt the decision to proceed was the “right thing to do,” as trustee Laura Blakely said, citing the outcome of “a very inclusive process.”
“We did not turn on a dime and decide on this overnight,” Conley said. “I am comfortable with where we are now.”
“We all want a solution that works for school district, the city and the community,” Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said last week. “The school and its field serve an important role and focal point of the community, and we all want to honor that.”
Wheeler anticipated revisiting the issue in the fall with the possible selection of the architect. She remained confident city officials would provide support.
“We understand that the city plans to be a full partner with us in this endeavor and is planning on paying a meaningful amount of money toward this project,” Wheeler said.
City spokesperson Lenka Wright said last week that the city of Mountain View hasn’t yet made a decision.
“City staff anticipate continuing discussions with district staff during the next several months to further define the project process and other details,” she said. “Once these details are further solidified, the item may be added to a future city council agenda for action.”
Note: This story has been updated from the print edition to correct errors related to trustee Chris Chiang's comments.