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.