Almanac

Schools - May 29, 2013

What will new school look like, and how much should it cost?

by Renee Batti

What kind of school do Menlo Park City School District residents want to see built on the district's former O'Connor School site, and how much are they willing to pay for it?

A community meeting to discuss the future of the site, located in the Willows neighborhood in Menlo Park, and a bond measure that's likely to be on November's ballot asking voters to fund the project, is set for Wednesday, May 29.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Hillview Middle School, 1100 Elder Ave. in Menlo Park.

In the face of rapidly increasing enrollment in district schools, the school board earlier this year voted to take back the O'Connor campus at 275 Elliot Drive, leased since 1991 by the German-American International School (GAIS). The approximately five-acre, irregularly shaped parcel now houses one permanent 1950s-era building that includes 10 classrooms, and a number of portables, accommodating about 315 GAIS students in preschool through eighth grade.

Staff has developed a number of options for rebuilding or renovating the campus, and board members have indicated that they prefer options that would either tear down the existing building and construct entirely new facilities, or would renovate the existing building and construct additional buildings.

Projected costs of those options range from about $13 million to $21.75 million. Those figures are in today's dollars, according to Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's facilities director. Should the board choose an option projected to cost nearly $22 million, it is likely to ask voters to approve a bond measure of about $30 million.

Board members also expressed support for building facilities comparable to those on the district's other four, recently modernized campuses.

Another key question community members are being asked to comment on is what class levels should be taught at the new school. Board members have indicated they favor a neighborhood school for K-5 or 3-5 programs, but other options have not been dismissed.

According to district staff, most community members who have contributed to the discussion over the past few months have indicated they want a neighborhood school on the site. A minority of the public supports a school of choice — for example, language immersion, or a program focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At the last school board meeting, board members and Superintendent Maurice Ghysels strongly supported creating a neighborhood school on the new campus, but noted that "choice" programs can also be offered there.

Go to tinyurl.com/NewSchool13 for a staff report listing options for the new school.

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