Price inflation has exacted a toll on Sequoia Union High School District plans to build two new small high schools to address 2013-14 projections of a 22 percent surge in district enrollment by 2020, including up to 25 percent more students at Menlo-Atherton High School.
The district planned to build two new 400-student schools -- one in the M-2 industrial district on the east side of Menlo Park and the other in San Carlos -- using $64 million of the $265 million bond money authorized by voters in June 2014.
But instead of spending $10 million to buy land for the two schools, the district spent $13 million, Chief Facilities Officer Matthew Zito said. And now, a Nov. 18 report by Mr. Zito shows the cost impact on the remaining $54.4 million meant to build the two schools: The cost for the Menlo Park school alone assuming a 44,000-square-foot building at a cost of $825 per square foot will be $36.3 million, a jump of 33 percent over the original allocation, Mr. Zito said.
The Menlo Park school would not be a simple classroom building, and its size will be important. Scheduled to open in the fall of 2018 with a focus on science, technology, math and engineering, the school would include innovations such as "learning studios" (classrooms 25 percent larger than usual), "learning commons" (1,000-square-foot areas around classroom clusters), a student union, and labs for engineering and maker spaces large enough for equipment, safety zones and collaborative learning, Mr. Zito said.
"This building will truly be the district's most innovative," he said.
Current plans do not include facilities for physical education, Mr. Zito said. Instead, students may be offered facilities at Canada Community College. A partnership between the Sequoia district and Canada College has long been included in district plans.
Superintendent Jim Lianides reminded the board of the necessity of deciding on the size of the Menlo Park school in January if it is to open on schedule. As for the cost, splitting the $54.4 million evenly between the two schools won't do, he said. And there are no unallocated funds from Measure A to offset the inflationary effects, he added.
"Once we do this," board President Allen Weiner said to the rest of the board, "it's a little tough to unwind it. Clearly, this price will go beyond 50 percent of the funds set aside for small school construction."
One option: A $9 billion statewide school construction bond measure, which would need approval of a simple majority of voters to pass, is eligible for the statewide ballot in November 2016. The Sequoia district could request up to $18 million if it's approved, Mr. Zito said.
Data from the Sequoia district shows that as of October 2015, enrollment has declined in the past year by about 2 percent at Carlmont and Woodside high schools, and has increased by 1 percent at Sequoia High, and by 6 percent at Menlo-Atherton High.
With respect to the "slight" decline at Woodside High, Superintendent Lianides noted that while the cost of living may be driving families out of parts of Redwood City that are gentrifying, the offsetting effect of apartments now under construction in Redwood City is unknown.
The data shows that at Woodside and M-A, enrollment in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades is well above that of the current senior classes.
"We certainly need to be very keenly observant of enrollment as we build out our schools," Mr. Lianides said. "We're in a time of a lot of change. ... I think the tide (of enrollment increases) is still coming."