Ladera school site likely to go to highest bidder

The apparent change in course has raised concerns among Woodland School officials

In a move that surprised the Ladera community and officials of the private Woodland School, which leases the former Ladera School site, school district officials have indicated that the district will launch an open bid process, rather than a more restricted process, to choose the next lessee of the school site.

The Las Lomitas School District board has yet to make a final decision, but at a recent meeting appeared to come to a consensus to follow the open bid process, which limits the district's control over what the lessee can do with the property. The open bid process also means the district must lease the property to the highest bidder, with few exceptions.

The apparent change in course has raised concerns among Woodland School officials and members of the Ladera community, which has been strong in its support for the private school. The switch "was a little confusing for us," said John Ora, Woodland's head of school. That's because the district was preparing to launch a "request for proposals" -- or RFP -- process that would give the district significant control over whom it would allow to occupy the property, and for what purpose.

To prepare for launching an RFP, the district some time ago formed a committee of Ladera residents and the Las Lomitas community to advise it on property-use issues at the site -- a step required by the state when school districts want to set terms and conditions on the lease of property.

Ladera resident Lennie Roberts, who co-chaired the advisory committee, said she was disappointed that the board has apparently changed course after "the district went through the process (to proceed with an RFP), and citizens gave their time and effort to the community meetings, and putting together the (required) report." The board, she said, seems to have "backed off from that, without any real explanation."

But Superintendent Eric Hartwig said the board does have a good reason for changing direction: It has a responsibility to maximize the financial benefit of surplus property, the proceeds of which will bolster the programs at the district's remaining two schools, Las Lomitas in Atherton and La Entrada in Menlo Park. And it appears that the open bid process will lead to just that.

Ms. Roberts and many in the Ladera community want to see Woodland School remain at the site because the school and residents have a good, cooperative relationship that includes joint use of fields and buildings, and similar views on how to minimize traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood.

Mr. Hartwig said the board "is going to want to hear about what the community concerns are before it gets to the point of developing a bid document." And, he added, "we still don't have a formal decision to go out to bid" -- a decision likely to be made at the board's November meeting.

Meanwhile, the district has set up a meeting for Oct. 24 with the Ladera community to address issues of concern.

Woodland and some Ladera residents have also criticized the district for dragging its feet on choosing a lessee once Woodland's 30-year lease, which was extended by a year, expires in July 2013. Woodland officials for more than a year have urged the district to move forward with the process so that it could compete for the site in an RFP process. The matter is urgent, they have argued, because the school must be able to plan for its future, and finding a new site, if it must, will take much time and effort.

In June, when it still appeared that the district would follow the RFP process, the board indicated it would expedite the process so that a lease would be signed by June 2012.

"We're still committed to that timeline," Mr. Hartwig said in late September.

Woodland, a preschool-through-eighth-grade school with about 275 students, now pays $650,000 a year for the site it has occupied since 1981, and has offered to pay more than $8 million to renovate and upgrade the campus if its lease is renewed. Being a small school, it might be at a disadvantage in an open bid process. Will it compete for the site in open bidding? "It depends on how long it takes them to get to that point," Mr. Ora said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Gunther Steinberg
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I trust that the Las Lomitas Board will consider the effect of going counter to the expressed interests of the Ladera community. Community cooperation and good will are a most valuable asset in many areas of interest to the district.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm

It is very sad to see the District sell-out and not do what is best for everyone involved. The neighborhood and the school are working well together. I am also surprised at just how long they are taking to make this decision.

Las Lomitas Board Trustees: Please remember there are others involved including your own students who live in our neighborhood. Keep things the way they are!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm

If the market value is demonstrably much higher than the current lease, the District should make the current lessee aware of that fact. Splitting the difference for the sake of good will makes sense.

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

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