The $5 million purchase of the undeveloped creekside property in unincorporated Santa Clara County — across Los Trancos Creek from the Alpine Inn in Portola Valley — was "just a fortuitous opportunity," he said in a Sept. 26 interview with the Almanac.
"We don't think we'll be preparing a plan for many years," he added. "We may decide not to propose a plan."
Mr. Ryles noted, for example, that the school is about to amend its strategic plan and that the new site will not be addressed in that plan.
In an Aug. 30 letter to parents, Mr. Ryles and school director Kristi Kerins called the site a potential "permanent home" for the preschool-through-grade-5 school and said it might entail a campaign of 10 to 15 years to raise the $30 million needed to build it.
Mr. Ryles and Ms. Kerins met last week with Portola Valley Mayor Ted Driscoll and Councilman Steve Toben, who has expressed concerns about how a new school on the site would affect Portola Valley.
"They have what they regard as an advantage of patience and time," Mr. Toben said at the council's Sept. 26 meeting. "They have an aspiration that is quite clear to settle on this site. It's just absolutely essential that we coordinate and work very well together (with Santa Clara County planning officials). We have to work in close harmony over a very long period of time. ... We are embarked upon a marathon."
Mr. Driscoll, in an interview, said he is reserving judgment about the merits of a new school on the site since there are as yet no plans and he has "no idea" what Phillips Brooks might propose, but the onus would be on the school to make its case.
"That's not a slam the door and nail it shut, but I cannot imagine a circumstance where they could mitigate all the problems with this," he said.
Deputy Town Planner Tom Vlasic has said school would intensify traffic through Portola Valley and, if current trends continued, would probably not enroll enough local students to satisfy Santa Clara County zoning laws for "rural" schools. He also described the site as too hilly for a school, too inaccessible, and too close to a tavern and a creek vulnerable to rainwater runoff.
"Phillips Brooks currently has an enrollment of 275," Mr. Toben said in an e-mail. "In the Woodside proposal, they sought a school for 290 students and 40 faculty in a 34,000-square-foot facility. It is unfathomable that such a facility could be located on this small, fragile site next to Los Trancos Creek. I am sympathetic to (the school's) need to find a permanent home, but I am unalterably opposed to their selection of this location."
Viable school-sites are rare in this neighborhood, Phillips Brooks chairman Ryles said. "They're just aren't any. ... We're well aware of these risks associated with building a school here. These are issues but none of them, singularly, are insurmountable."
Buildings can be built into hills, he said. A tavern across the creek is not a problem with the school closing around 3 p.m., well before the Alpine Inn's nightlife gets going, he said.
Philips Brooks has been paying rent to the Las Lomitas Elementary School District for nearly 30 years. The school is just completing a $15 million, 10,000-square-foot expansion at the 4.5-acre campus. "It is a gift to the state," Mr. Ryles said lightly.
With a lease that runs to 2017, and one extension to 2022, students and staff are likely to be around to enjoy the new facilities, said Ms. Kerins, the head of the school. "If you have a child in preschool, they're going to graduate from this (site)," she told the Almanac.
Despite the upgrades, the school will continue without a gym, with stiff limits on night and weekend use, and without its own playing fields. Not that they're complaining; it's not a high school. "It's just another thing you have to think about," Ms. Kerins said.
A permanent home could give Phillips Brooks better odds of surviving. Private schools that rent tend to fail after about 50 years, Ms. Kerins said.
Rumors and such
Portola Valley Georgia Bennicas, who owns land next to the school's site, told the Almanac that Phillips Brooks had been attempting to surreptitiously buy her land so as to gain access to Arastradero Road.
Asked to respond, board chairman Ryles replied: "We've never made an approach, either direct or indirect, about buying her land. ... We don't think we have to buy property to make the school accessible."
Town officials have complained that Phillips Brooks was secretive about its plans. "They didn't come to the town; they didn't come to the neighbors," Mr. Toben said.
In a Sept. 4 e-mail to Mr. Toben, deputy planner Vlasic said he had been informed of the school's interest, but that news of the land purchase "was more in the nature of a rumor."
"We didn't hide it from anybody that this was going to be a school site," Mr. Ryles said, adding that the school is the title holder. "When people buy pieces of land, they tend to buy pieces of land. They don't put out press releases."
In explaining the school's silence in response to the Almanac's repeated requests for comment, Ms. Kerins said the timing was unfortunate. "Quiet is not a great thing," she said, "but I had to get the school open."