Update: New school bells disrupting neighborhood peace, residents claim


The bell tones that indicate class breaks over the loudspeakers at Corte Madera Middle School in Portola Valley are different for the 2011-12 school year, as annoyed residents, through a couple of representatives, attested to at the Sept. 14 Town Council meeting.

The tones are of at least two types, are more frequent than usual, are loud enough to be heard beyond the campus and are disrupting the normal daytime peace of nearby neighborhoods, resident Danna Breen told the council.

The Portola Valley School District essentially concurs and is taking steps, district Superintendent Tim Hanretty told the Almanac.

The council listened to Ms. Breen but did not comment. Under the rules for parliamentary procedure, comments would have been inappropriate since the matter was not on the formal agenda for the evening.

"Everybody is really shaken about this. It's like the Sound of Music. Every class has a sound to which they jump," she said. "I'm telling you it's wildly intrusive."

"Every 15 minutes the bell is ringing twice," she added. "I am speaking on behalf of a lot of people. We will drag the troops in (to a council meeting) if it doesn't stop soon."

"Bell is not the right word," Jon Silver, a resident and a former mayor, added. "It's more like an ersatz train whistle. It is odd. It is frequent."

"We think it very raucous and needlessly loud," Hartha Hanerfeld, a neighbor of Ms. Breen's, said in a telephone interview. The bells are audible on remote hikes on Coal Mine Ridge and Windy Hill, she said.

"It sounds like a siren," said Tan Oak Drive resident Mary desJardins in a phone interview. "It's auditorially disruptive. I can hear it all day long. What they have right now is like bad noise pollution. It's a very unpleasant sound."

Robert Pierce, also of Tan Oak Drive, called the bell "an annoying horn or klaxon."

Mr. Silver had recommended, since public school districts are not constrained by zoning laws, that the council try gentle diplomacy but it appears that may not be necessary.

Mr. Hanretty acknowledged the problem in forwarding to the Almanac a recent email message to Town Manager Angie Howard.

The school is perched alone on a hill in a relatively densely populated area of Portola Valley. The school bells were reprogrammed this year to accommodate a new three-part class schedule for fourth- and fifth-graders, for sixth-graders, and for seventh- and eighth-graders, Mr. Hanretty wrote.

"I concur that the tone that was added to accommodate the third (new) bell schedule is quite shrill," he wrote. "We are working to replace it with something less shrill."

Another problem: the speakers outside the classrooms are supposed to be heard just four times a day: when classes start, at the ends of recess and lunch, and at the end of the day. "At present, it appears that the bells are ringing inside and outside throughout the day," Mr. Hanretty wrote.

"Like so many things these days, we are not able to program the bell system ourselves," Mr. Hanretty continued. "We rely, as so do most schools in this area, on an outside firm to handle changes and adjustments to the system."

The Bay Area has just one firm that services this type of bell system and Portola Valley is in the queue, Mr. Hanretty wrote. The administration is also looking into reducing by half the duration of the ringing.

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Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I guess I've heard everything now. Imagine a school with bells that ring during the school day? Oh, the horror!

Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm

[Post removed; personal attacks violate terms of use.]

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm

[Disrespectful comment removed]

Like this comment
Posted by Another PV Resident
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Sep 16, 2011 at 3:26 pm

"really shaken about this" (REALLY? oh the drama)
"I can hear this all day long" (interesting given that school is not an all day event)
"it's wildly intrusive" (as opposed to every other year?)
"we will drag in the troops" (over a bell? how about behaving like adults)

Last I heard, school bells were part of having a school...

Typical Almanac reporting - create discord over something trivial

Typical PV drama - same people, new issue

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

My guess is that this situation would be hell on Earth for anyone who occupies himself or herself with thinking and/or writing and/or contemplating just about anything during the day.

Compassion for victims of heedlessness is a virtue, and heedlessness by an institution is not a virtue.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

The same problem exists at Ormondale Elementary School in Portola Valley. Increasing use of a bullhorn has become a nuisance. For a campus that small, is a bullhorn (other than for a dire emergency) really necessary?

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 17, 2011 at 7:49 am

Folks, you bought a house near a school. Did you really think it was going to be quiet when school was in session?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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