Now the foundation that operates the school — where families pay no more than $150 a month for their children's education — has asked the City Council to allow it to buy the land from the city in order to make $6 million in improvements.
The Palo Alto-based California Family Foundation, which established the school 21 years ago, says it wants to own the land because it would be easier to garner donations for the capital improvements, including building new permanent facilities. The campus is now made up of several portable buildings.
The council plans to discuss the proposal at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Senior Center at 110 Terminal Ave. — just across a parking lot from the school, located at 50 Terminal Ave.
Beechwood School started as a K-1 school in 1986, when the city granted the foundation the $1 a year lease and agreed to its request to build a campus for east Menlo Park and East Palo Alto students on what was then an abandoned field in the city's Belle Haven neighborhood.
The lease has stayed the same, but the school's enrollment and needs have grown, according to Principal David Laurence.
"There are big limitations to our site, so if [the foundation] purchases the land, we'll likely raise more money to build a much more suitable campus," Mr. Laurence said, noting his office also doubles as a classroom twice a week. He said the school could build a two-story facility to replace the current cluster of outdated portable classrooms.
"We're doing a really good job with the kids, but we need more space," said Marilyn Anderson, executive director of the foundation. "We're educating children, we're educating fellow citizens ... and we're making a difference."
About 35 percent of the students live in Menlo Park. Ms. Anderson said all of the students at Beechwood are on scholarship, with families paying, at most, $150 a month for their children's education.
The school is highly subsidized by donations, with tuition fees covering just $200,000 of the school's $2 million annual operating budget, according to data provided by the foundation.
Asked about the value of the site, Ms. Anderson said it has not yet been appraised.
In a Jan. 22 letter to the city, foundation board member Richard Jacobsen stressed that the school provides an option for Belle Haven families who live in the Ravenswood School District, which is known for high drop-out rates and low performance scores.
"It is important that committed families in that area continue to have other options for the education of their children," Mr. Jacobsen said in the letter. "The money which we have invested in the school and which we will invest in the school in the future is in fact an investment in the future of our community."
When asked if the city should sell the land to the foundation, Mayor Andy Cohen said an enthusiastic "yes." "This school is a success story for everybody," he said.
Other council members said they didn't know enough about the request to form an opinion on the foundation's proposal.
With projects proposed for eastern Menlo Park on the agenda, the City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Senior Center in the city's Belle Haven neighborhood, instead of its usual meeting place in the council chambers in the Civic Center. Due to the lack of broadcasting capabilities, the meeting will not be broadcast live on television or via the city's Web site.