Almanac

Schools - March 12, 2014

Design, name chosen for new Menlo school

by Renee Batti

A single two-story building housing 16 classrooms and larger spaces for music, science and arts instruction will be built on the Menlo Park City School District's "O'Connor" site in Menlo Park's Willows neighborhood — a plan unanimously endorsed by the school board last month.

The new third- to fifth-grade school will be the district's fourth elementary school facility, and will ease the growing enrollment strain on Encinal, Laurel and Oak Knoll schools when it opens in mid-2016.

The space will house 360 students, but the campus is designed in such a way that it can be converted to a K-5 school with classroom conversions and a building addition next to the gym.

The school will have a recognizable name: Laurel. It will be a second campus for the existing K-3 Laurel School a short distance away in Atherton. When the new school opens, the existing Laurel will enroll kindergarten through second-grade children, who will move to the new campus beginning in third grade. The district is still deciding on secondary names for both schools to distinguish one from the other.

Last November, district voters overwhelmingly approved a $23 million bond measure to pay for the new school at 275 Elliott Drive, where the district once operated O'Connor School before declining enrollment led to its closure.

Designed by Deems Lewis McKinley Architecture, which also designed the district's Hillview Middle School, the new school building will be about 54,565 square feet, and will include 14 standard classrooms of 960 square feet and two 1,100-square-foot classrooms. The classrooms will be built in a way that allows the combination of two to three spaces for collaborative projects.

The design also provides for additional flexible space — a feature that's become more desirable as modern education trends move toward hands-on, collaborative learning.

The plan also includes a 2,000-square-foot library, a 5,000-square-foot multi-use gym, a stage, a warming kitchen, and administrative offices. The gym is designed to allow community use without permitting access to the school's interior.

The existing building will be demolished. The campus has been leased since 1991 to the private German-American International School, which is applying for permits to move to a site in North Fair Oaks next year after its lease expires.

Access

The board also approved a plan that preserves the current automobile access to the school from Elliott Drive, but directs bus traffic through an existing gate on Oak Court — a development a number of residents of that street aren't happy about.

Oak Court residents have written emails and attended school board and city meetings arguing against allowing vehicle access, whether buses or passenger cars, on the narrow street, which has no sidewalks.

Resident Bob Arabian said he and several other leaders in the effort to minimize traffic impacts of the school on their street are "trying to do our best to work through the process" with the district. The residents "are still somewhat divided" on the issue, with "one camp that doesn't want any entry (of buses) through Oak Court, and a camp that's trying to make peace with the board's decision."

Mr. Arabian said a key concern of residents is that allowing buses now could create the proverbial "slippery slope," leading to gradual easing of restrictions on additional vehicle access and pressure to construct sidewalks on what he characterizes as "a narrow country lane."

Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's facilities and operations director, noted that the district looked at several options — ultimately narrowed down to three alternatives — and that the board's decision was made after much analysis, working with city staff, and hearing public comment.

He said the district is still working on details of the plan, however, and is looking to form an advisory committee with community members; among other questions, the committee will try to address issues with the new school's neighbors.

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