By Barbara Wood
Special to the Almanac
By next fall, sixth- through eighth-grade students in the Menlo Park City School District should have a brand new school complete with the latest technology, including a solar system that should produce much of the energy used by the campus.
Construction on the new Hillview Middle School is continuing on schedule and should be ready for students in a year, neighbors and parents were told at a public meeting held on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the school on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.
Neighbors seemed most concerned about the landscaping that is planned to help block the views of the new two-story buildings from the surrounding homes. The school district has been working closely with the residents. In fact, the district's Ahmad Sheikholeslami, director of facility planning and construction, said he has visited with most of the immediate neighbors of the projects and checked out the views from their backyards.
Mr. Sheikholeslami said he is juggling the wishes of immediate neighbors who want small trees that won't shade their backyards and swimming pools and of those more distant who want taller trees to block views of the buildings. The compromise may be, he said, to put trees and shrubs that won't surpass 15 feet on the property lines and taller trees closer to the new school buildings further from the neighbors.
Right now, neighbors can see partial views of the steel skeletons of the buildings. Mr. Sheikholeslami said that the contractors are finishing the framing and getting ready to put on second story decking and roofs. Rough plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems are being installed and soon the exterior walls will start going up.
Neighbors seemed pleased with the progress of the construction, and in fact told Mr. Sheikholeslami that they are less worried about construction workers parking on their streets than the congestion caused by parents who are picking up and dropping off their children. School starts at Hillview on Monday, Aug. 22.
The new school is being built on the former playing fields at Hillview so students can continue to attend classes in the old school during construction. When the new buildings are completed next June, the current school, except for the existing gym, will be demolished. A new artificial turf field and running track will be put where the current school is and should be completed by December 2012. In the meantime students have only basketball courts to use for outdoor sports.
The current school is bursting at the seams, with 800 students expected to be enrolled by fall of 2012. Mr. Sheikholeslami promised neighbors that construction noise should soon diminish as the exteriors of the buildings are completed and work begins on the interiors. Next summer, when demolition begins, it may again be noisy and dusty for a while, he said.
The new school will be made up of two-story buildings that open off an interior courtyard. It will have 48 classrooms including specialized classrooms for computers, music, choir, broadcast, science, industrial technology, art and special needs.
The school will have a 400-seat performing arts building with stage and dressing rooms, new basketball courts, a student activity room and lunch shelter. There will be more parking and a new pick-up and drop-off area and a school garden.
In addition to the photovoltaic solar system, the school will have energy- efficient lighting that turns on and off automatically, and a charging station for electric vehicles that will be available to the public. Windows will all open and sun shades will block sunlight and views into neighbors' back yards.
The design of the school and its energy-efficiency measures have earned it verification from the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) program.
The athletic field will be shared with the city of Menlo Park.
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener who lives in an old farmhouse in Woodside.