Oak Knoll School Plan needs more work
Original post made
by Nancy Palmer, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Sep 4, 2007
There is no graceful solution to the Oak Knoll School Problem. A campus which was originally set aside to provide for 200+ students is now asked to service over 700. The community approved a bond measure for improvements. The question now is how best to use that money and improve the facility. Since April I have attended 3 meetings on the redesign of the Oak Knoll Site.The plan presented in April included a large multipurpose room out of scale with the neighborhood, a new parking lot accessed from Oak Avenue which required cutting down heritage oak trees, and airport inspired drop-off lanes off Oak Knoll to try and alleviated street traffic. Over the months neighborhood pressure has managed to reduce the visual impact of the large multipurpose building, to save the smaller of the two heritage oak trees, and to lessen the appearance of the drop-off lanes. To me these are cosmetic concessions. The basic plan and placement of buildings has not changed.
So what is conceptually wrong with this plan. First, the play field used by the younger children is gone, traffic is being dumped out onto a busy street, and more of an inadequate piece of land is asphalted over and dedicated to vehicle traffic. The 400 year old heritage oak by virtue of its inconvenient position is history.
In the morning and afternoon, when school is taking in and letting out, the neighborhood traffic is horrendous- for about a half hour each time. Parents park a couple of blocks away to bring their children to school. The proposed solution, however, of drop-off lanes in the new plan cannot begin to handle the volume of cars. Soon some parents will be tired of sitting in a line of idling cars and will return to the previous solution of parking a block or two away and walking. In the meantime a playing field is gone and lanes of asphalt remain. As for the increased traffic on Oak Avenue, the planners do not admit to the full use of the new parking lot. How do delivery trucks get to the new multipurpose building with its stage and cafeteria? Where is the refuse located? We are told these are incidentals yet to be addressed. These points are not minor and for me it is like designing a garden, planting it, and then deciding how one is going to add a sprinkler system to water the plants.
The present general conformation of the school ground works for the neighborhood. Both fields, one for the younger children off Oak Knoll, and the back one for the older students are used heavily and simultaneously outside of school hours. Traffic is a problem which will only be eliminated when the facility at Oak Knoll is supplemented as originally intended by another campus. I urge more consideration be given to the real use of the property before more effort and money is put into a flawed design.
Posted by Kristin Duriseti
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 11, 2007 at 2:53 pm
Please consider my letter to the Menlo Park School Board:
11 September 2007
Dear Members of the Menlo Park Board of Education,
I urge you to critically assess the facility development plan for Oak Knoll Elementary School being presented this evening at the Board meeting. In particular, I ask you to seriously question the need for the proposed parking lot off Oak Ave. and reevaluate the implementation of the drop-off and pick-up lanes. The reason that I continue to press for reconsideration is that adhering to a plan that incorporates extensive parking and drop-off/pick-up lanes imposes severe constraints on the use of valuable real estate and, thus, compromises the overall building design. The data that I have collected demonstrate that parking adequate for the Oak Knoll staff can be obtained by restructuring the existing parking lot and that the problems associate with drop-off and pick-up, in particular, are better addressed through operational changes.
Proposed Oak Ave. Parking Lot
At the May 16, 2007, Board meeting, Superintendent Ranella indicated that 85 parking spaces would fulfill the parking needs for the full-time and part-time staff at Oak Knoll. The existing parking lot off Oak Knoll Lane at the front of the school can be modified to add 12 additional parking spaces by changing the parallel parking spaces located at the northwest edge of campus into 45° angled parking spaces. This is accomplished by preserving 20' wide lanes along the edge of the campus buildings (adequate for fire department access and conforming to City of Menlo Park regulations for two lanes of traffic) and a 12.5' single lane of traffic entering the campus. Along the northwest edge of campus, there is a row of trees situated 7' from the parallel parking spaces and 5' from the fence. Accommodating the angled parking may possibly alter the current straight edge of the parking spaces to a "zig-zag" configuration.
At the last board meeting, substantial discussion was given to the cost of constructing new parking spaces. I expect that restructuring the existing parking on Oak Knoll Lane to accommodate 56 cars would be substantially more cost-effective than building a new parking lot. Furthermore, retaining the additional parking spots in the existing parking lot would eliminate the need to obtain a curb cut at a dangerous location off Oak Ave., as currently proposed, or off Oak Knoll Ave. (which would be even worse from a safety point-of-view).
The need for 95 parking spots, as currently proposed in Scheme O, or the minimum of 90 spots (to include 5 "visitor" parking spaces), as directed by the Board on April 25, 2007, awards a disproportionate share of scarce land area to parking. At 8.7 acres, the Oak Knoll campus is 81% of the recommended size for an elementary school serving 680 to 700 students. The maximum number of parking spaces for a campus of this size is 102. A proportionate percentage of parking is 83 parking spots (81% of 102). According to Ranella's assessment, 85 parking spaces meet the parking needs for Oak Knoll's staff, which is within an acceptable margin of 83 spots, is both adequate and just. Given that the square footage allotted for play space in Scheme O is less than 50% of the play area specified by the state for the size of the Oak Knoll student body, I question a plan that prioritizes the preservation of 95% of the maximum allowed parking spaces for a campus 25% larger, when that need is not clearly demonstrated.
Last spring, shortly after the Preliminary Traffic Analysis conducted by Sandis in April, 2007, I spent several days assessing traffic patterns. Clearly, the need to mitigate the negative impact for my neighbors on Oak Knoll Lane north of campus is obvious and compelling. It was immediately apparent to me that much of the traffic congestion is due to operational mismanagement rather than facility restrictions. For example, these are my observations on a particular afternoon:
1) After 30 minutes, only 75 cars had passed through the pick-up area.
2) It took 20 minutes after the end of school for the first six cars in line to pick up their children.
3) At most, six cars were able to load passengers at a time.
4) There was no procedure for facilitating the passage of students from the classroom to the cars.
5) "Queuing" at the exit of the parking lot onto Oak Knoll Lane never caused a back-up.
6) There were 135 cars parked along Oak Ave., White Oak, and Oak Knoll Lane (including cars parked both legally and illegally).
7) At early morning kindergarten pick-up, drivers of 55 cars (representing 70% of the 80 morning kindergarten students) parked and walked; there was no queue at all in the pick-up lanes.
If we assume that parents with children in afternoon kindergarten will park and walk at the same rate as parents with children in morning kindergarten, then 42 (or roughly 1/3) of the 135 cars parked in the neighborhood in the afternoon would park in any case. I would expect that this pattern of parking and walking would continue in the lower elementary grades, although probably at a declining rate. As a conservative estimate, I would expect another 30 parents would park and walk to pick up their older children (approximately 1 car per classroom), if only to check in with a teacher, for example. Thus, roughly half of the drivers, representing only 10% of the students, who currently park and walk, would prefer to use the pick-up lanes, if it were more convenient.
When I informally surveyed the drivers queued in the pick-up lanes, I repeatedly heard the same complaint regarding the inadequacy of the pick-up procedure: the students simply didn't arrive at the pick-up area in a timely manner. This is obvious from even a cursory evaluation. At Challenger school, where my son was a student in the past, they manage to load 250 elementary aged children, 4 cars at a time, within 15 minutes. I imagine that Oak Knoll might manage loading fewer students with more cars in less than thirty minutes. Laurel Elementary School also has implemented successfully a similar program that also loads students within 15 minutes.
Furthermore, the Preliminary Traffic Analysis does not accurately represent the existing conditions. The report suggests that "The majority of parents park on Oak Knoll Lane and walk their children to campus" (page 2, section V). In fact, as evidenced by the nearly 200 bikes parked daily in the racks, plus trailers, a steady stream of pedestrians every day, and a count of less than 200 parked cars, I would argue that the majority of students walk or bike to school. The analysis attributes traffic congestion to the unmitigated passage of students at the crosswalk that "essentially [traps cars] on campus and has resulted in parents parking in the surrounding neighborhoods instead of utilizing the on-campus loading zone" (emphasis added, page 2, section V); my data do not confirm this conclusion. The Preliminary Traffic Analysis reports that under existing conditions, 168 cars are able to cycle through the pick-up area by loading 14 cars at a time. Clearly, these data do not conform to the existing conditions. In fact, according the Sandis report, the approximately 75 cars that actually use the pick-up lanes should dissipate within 15 minutes (page 3, section VII). The recommendation to lengthen the drop-off/pick-up lanes in order to accommodate over 300 cars clearly overestimates the real demand and imposes an unnecessary claim on land use (page 4, section VIII). The proposed extension represents 1% of land, equivalent to the play space allocated to 10 students. Again, I question the prioritization of land use.
Lastly, adding a few more cars to the queue on-campus will not alleviate the concerns of neighbors located on Oak Knoll north of the school, since the problem is operational in nature, and will unsafely sandwich pedestrians and bicyclists between cars exiting the proposed drop-off lanes and cars queuing at the intersection of Oak Ave. and Oak Knoll Lane. A configuration closer to that presented in the Measure B Bond proposal will allow students to load at the front corner of the school, where there is more room for kids to congregate than in front of the office. Rather than paying lip service to the legitimate needs of my neighbors on Oak Knoll and the repeatedly concern expressed at these meetings by parents of students who walk and bike, please provide genuine direction to the Site Planning Committee and insist on a real solution to the problem.
Change, at what cost?
These modifications still allow the school to meet its operational and educational objectives while better addressing the needs of the neighborhood. As an added benefit, my proposal frees up valuable land to design one story classrooms, instead of the current proposal for a two-story building, which is more in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, which certainly would be less expensive and would likely allow for the preservation of both large, heritage oak trees along Oak Ave. Despite repeated attempts to cast the neighborhood as "urban," this neighborhood is residential; preserving the residential character is part of the responsibility of the Board, as clearly indicated by the established design criteria.
As long as the educational and operational objectives are met, I believe there should be some concession made to the impact of the proposal on the neighborhood. Scheme O does not represent a concession; Scheme O reshuffles the same elements. The original Measure U Bond presented to the voters in June 2006 preserved the front playfield and proposed new construction of classrooms, multipurpose room, and parking at the rear of the school. The proposals presented to the public since then completely reverse every expectation. Yes, we live near a school, which comes with certain advantages and disadvantages, but it does not mean that we must abdicate every interest, especially when our interests are compatible. It is unreasonable that you ask the neighbors of Oak Knoll Elementary to shoulder every burden of the proposed construction. I am asking that of the four impactful elementsthe multipurpose room, the classrooms, the parking lot, and the loading zone lanesplease remove one of them, namely the parking lot, and reduce the other, the loading lanes. These requests are not obstructionist, but rather a reasoned compromise. Last spring, I believed what I thought was a sincere intent to include the neighbors on further design developments. Needless to say, I was surprised to receive notice of Scheme O (several iterations beyond Scheme F presented last spring) on August 29 without a single note of communication over the summer.
I reiterate my plea made on previous occasions that you take a measure of time to adequately vet the proposal for Oak Knoll. Yes, the school district is under pressure to accommodate an increasing student population, but this is irrelevant to facility development at Oak Knoll. The time pressure extends to plans to restructure Encinal or reclaim the O'Connor facility, which in turn, will reduce the student body at Oak Knoll. The population pressure at Oak Knoll will be relieved only by increasing student enrollment at Encinal or O'Connor. One might reasonably argue that I have a vested interest in expediting the construction at Oak Knoll in order to benefit my younger son when he enters kindergarten in a few years. Instead, I urge caution. Every person involved in facility development across the school district is under intense pressure to perform. Address the more critical facility needs at Hillview, Encinal, and O'Connor; Oak Knoll is clearly a lower priority.
Thank you for your consideration,