Research lab opposes new Menlo Park high school


As the Sequoia Union High School District moves ahead with plans to build a new high school for 300 to 400 students at 150 Jefferson Drive in the industrial area of Menlo Park, the proposed school is getting the cold shoulder from its future neighbor.

The site is bracketed by the offices of Exponent Inc., a failure-analysis and research firm located on Jefferson Drive for almost 25 years. The company, in a Jan. 28 letter from the law firm Archer Norris, informed the district of its opposition to a school there, claiming that the area's industrial character makes the site inappropriate.

The Sequoia district plans to build two small schools -- the other in San Carlos, and each with a theme such as technology or the arts -- to make room for a surge of middle-school students, many from Menlo Park districts, with peak enrollment expected in the 2020-21 school year.

Attendance at Menlo-Atherton High School is expected to jump significantly. The district hopes to relieve enrollment pressure by enticing around 100 students per year over four years to the Jefferson Drive school, Matthew Zito, the district's chief facilities officer and current M-A principal, told the Menlo Park Planning Commission on Jan. 26.

The commission, which voted 5-2 to support the school, has the right to determine whether district plans are consistent with the city's general plan. State law exempts school districts from zoning laws, so even if the commission were to find the plans inconsistent, the district could proceed.

The site is in the M-2 general industrial zone, "the key" to the city's economy, according to a recent planning report. Nearby are Facebook, Intuit and Oracle, representing one of "three rapidly growing high-tech sectors" in M-2, the others being life sciences and medical devices, the report says. Another report notes that 735 apartments are planned in the M-2 zone by spring 2016.

Exponent CFO and executive vice president Richard L. Schlenker said the company's labs, which would face the school, handle 6,000 to 7,000 projects annually, some of which involve hazards, including "radiation activities" and biological and medical wastes.

There are "massive pieces of broken pipe from pipeline explosions" on Exponent's property, he said. "If somebody was to trespass and crawl around on those pipes and not be supervised when they were in the area, they could be seriously injured."

"If (Exponent executives) think that that's a health hazard to the community, they should take care of that themselves," Commission Chair Ben Eiref said.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 10:24 am

Isn't there some legalese about coming to the nuisance.

Also what does the MP Fire District think of the idea? Peter?

2 people like this
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 12:38 pm

While I am supportive of the school district locating property where they can, Exponent is raising a legitimate concern. It's not a matter of a hazard to the public. Exponent appears to do a lot of forensic analysis following industrial or other accidents, and they do that (I'm kind of guessing here) by carting what remains to their site for inspection and analysis; that's how you figure these things out, and it's important for future safety and legal claims. That means leaving big failed piping, engines or wiring sitting around, as close as possible to the state it was in at the time of the accident. There's probably a lot of equipment, or test set-ups, around that's too large or complicated to move inside or take apart every day. Their business was sited in an area which all assumed was appropriate to this kind of work: low foot traffic, and well isolated from lots of ordinary residents and office workers. Their concern is clearly that, no matter how well they protect their facility, having some several hundred high school students right next door is simply not prudent. It's not that students generally can't be well-behaved or are looking for trouble. It's that just a single such student might really harm themselves by somehow getting on the grounds -- on a dare, out of real curiosity and interest, to win a bet, whatever. With hundreds of students around every day, for years, it's hard not to see Exponent's risk-based concern: the 'law of large numbers' will eventually prevail and the outcome could be nasty, perhaps even fatal. This is not a little R&D lab like so many that exist all over the M-2 area. Can the school district in designing the school mitigate that risk? It's up to them to put forward that design, with a clear expression of the hazard involved, and how it can be reduced, for all to see before they decide on going forward.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Feb 5, 2015 at 3:22 pm

proposed site is far closer to the highway (~500 feet) than the state guidelines (1,500 -2,500 feet)
Web Link

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Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Robert is a registered user.

Looks like (if the context is correct in this article that Commission Chair Ben Eiref thinks very highly of himself and a singular approach at addressing the needs of the all: "If (Exponent executives) think that that's a health hazard to the community, they should take care of that themselves," I have not seen enough information yet, but I would think bloviating is the least desirable way to have others join your cause.

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