Schools - March 26, 2008

Neighbors at odds with district over Oak Knoll School plans

Correction: This story misidentified changes to the plans sought by nearby neighbors. The residents would like the planned two-story multi-use room to be moved to the area of the back basketball courts. They do not prefer that the building stay at its proposed site with a sunken, below-grade foundation, as mistakenly reported in the story.

By Andrea Gemmet God is in the details, as the saying goes.

Details about new construction slated to begin at Oak Knoll elementary school in Menlo Park this summer are spelled out in the 61-page draft environmental review, called a negative declaration, that's currently being circulated for public comment.

It's one of the last steps on the road to approval for the project, which was authorized by the Menlo Park City School District's board in September.

The report for Oak Knoll school details trees to be removed, "minimal" improvements to utilities, traffic studies, pollution prevention measures, and drainage. The public has 30 days from the March 11 release date of the draft negative declaration to raise questions or concerns that must be answered in the final document.

For Rich Rollins, who lives near the school, the report hasn't assuaged his list of concerns, including impacts from traffic, drainage, noise and the loss of as many as eight mature trees.

Mr. Rollins is part of a group of nearby residents who are lobbying the Menlo Park City Council to intervene on the neighborhood's behalf. The City Council put discussion of the Oak Knoll negative declaration on the agenda of its April 1 meeting.

The project is intended to replace the 14 portable buildings on campus, freeing up playground and field space by constructing a two-story classroom building, and modernizing existing classrooms.

Mr. Rollins' group opposes the plan to build a two-story multi-purpose building at the north end of the school near Oak Avenue, a change in the school district's original plan for the campus, he said. Neighbors would like to see the building changed to a sunken footprint, so it won't be so tall compared to surrounding homes, Mr. Rollins said.

The group is also upset over the fate of an enormous valley oak near the existing playground, slated for removal to make way for a new, 22-car parking lot that would be accessed via a driveway on Oak Avenue. They'd like to see the parking lot moved to another spot, saving a tree that's estimated to be 300 years old, he said.

Ram Duriseti, another nearby neighbor, said the group has little hope that officials from the Menlo Park City School District will consider a compromise plan they've put together that would save oak trees and lessen the school's impact on the neighborhood. Neighbors have been unfairly categorized as "a shrill minority that is against the educational needs of kids," he said.

"One might ask why the school board should voluntarily compromise when they have the ability to ram their preferences down the proverbial throat?" Mr. Duriseti said in an e-mail to the Almanac. "One would hope that responsible civil agencies would seek broad consensus without compulsion, simply out of a sense of responsibility and decency."

A negative declaration is a more modest level of review than an environmental impact report. It's reserved for projects that show that any negative impacts can be mitigated.


Posted by Maddie, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 17, 2008 at 10:52 pm

I think that it's outrageous to even think of cutting down up to eight 300-year-old trees in order to make "minimal improvements". This is truly a case of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot. Doe anyone think of the complications of the lost shade, lost roots, and lost play area for the kids? I grew up as an Oak Knoll student, and the memories of playing or sitting in the shade of a giant oak are countless.

Posted by there's a better way, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 30, 2008 at 11:16 am

Web Link

The true neighbor alternate plan we just saw is fiscally, environmentally and operationally superior to the current plan.
It saves the heritage oak and front playfield, reduces paved surfaces and is less of an impact on immediate residences.
Plus, it's more kid friendly.
While some may think the district "owns" the land, we should all appreciate our stewardship of this special place for future generations of all area children. It's not just about selfish neighbors, but neighbors who daily hear the sound of happy children at play under the great oak.

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