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Massive two-story building proposed to dwarf Oak Knoll School neighbors

Original post made by BIGGER THE BETTER?, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park, on Mar 21, 2007

In its headlong rush to break ground on a monstrous NEW 2 story bldg. at Oak Knoll School, backing on Oak Avenue and dwarfing it's neighbors, Menlo Park School District finally informed the neighbors this Monday night that the precious greenbelt/playground and heritage oaks will be history, without even giving the vast back of the school area a second thought as a more logical, less intrusive location. The site planning committee/architects apparently didn't think it necessary to consult with the neighbors earlier, and how this monolith, together with a massive new driveway and staff parking lot would severely impact the adjoining houses, all single story. There goes the neighborhood park, a bunch of old oak trees (they'll die eventually if not removed soon, right?)
Approval is expected on April 4th at the next board meeting without any city/state review, so forget about any so called "green initiative" and "human scale" planning efforts. Let's just pave/build over what little open space/recreational area the neighborhood has remaining and spend the taxpayers dollars before they dry up.
Just go look at the new gym at La Entrada School up on Sharon Road, and envision a structure nearly THREE TIMES LARGER by some accounts.
Send emails to the school board and let them know they need to look at more reasonable alternatives.

Comments (33)

Posted by Newsboy
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2007 at 12:22 pm

The e-mail address for the school board is:

Posted by c'est la vie in menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 24, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Sounds pretty sneaky when they get the bond issue passed without showing the "wish list" plans that must have been in process for at least a year or so. Apparently there were private, closed door planning meetings, possibly in violation of the Brown Act. Just so happens the Oak Knoll school "neighborhood representative" doesn't even live next to the school, she lives around the block on White Oak Drive, so it won't be in her backyard. Nice of her to keep it from leaking out to the school's neighbors for so long. Sounds like the board will just go through the nominal "public review" process since they must already have the needed majority votes for approval all lined up. Sounds pretty illegal and definitely not politically correct. I thought board members were sworn in to an oath of ethics and upholding the law like other elected officials. Anybody for starting a recall of the board before they get the district into costly and protracted litigation that we end up paying for because of their malfeasance?

Posted by Pave Paradise?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2007 at 7:44 pm

The proposed Oak Knoll renovation plans are being rushed through without time for adequate public comment.

The current plans will pave much of the front grass field, replacing it with an 8,000sf parking lot, with ingress and egress onto Oak Ave. Say goodbye to ever playing in front of the school!

The proposed pedestrian and bicycle traffic to and from the school may be negatively affected by the proposed plan. Where's the traffic study data? What about safety for our kids?

The massive 22,000sf 2-story structure outlined by the first poster will be grossly out of scale with the school and the neighborhood.

We can do better. We deserve better.

Email and tell them so.

Posted by shine artist
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Hope those neighbors don't turn this into a media event because the Almanac doesn't care enough to do other than their usual sanitized reporting. Probably better to get the SJ Merc involved. They're not so "owned" and let their reporters do some truly investigative journalism.

Posted by You Tube it for validation
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Ya, and don't expect the PaloAlto (USA Today) Daily Snewze that litters our driveway to say anything. They don't have any real news reporters left since Dan Price sold out. Local print media is gutless. The internet is the only real information source. Hey, thanks Palo Alto Weekly for "allowing" this forum to give us a "voice"

Posted by Baseball Dad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:56 pm

I was just at Oak Knoll School today tossing balls with my son when a passer-by informed me of the renovation plans. I had no idea. I heard the back field will be enlarged too (played there today as well), but why put a parking lot in front? I say put the parking in back of the school where nobody sees it and keep some green grass in front. Sounds like it may be a done deal, but I hope someone can persuade the powers that be to change the plans.

What a shame.

Posted by Theopaul
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2007 at 9:48 am

Complete paradise and they put up a parking lot...

Perhaps that will ease some of the traffic congestion surrounding the school for the daily drop off and pick up of the kiddies.

Is this standard operating procedure for school districts to operate behind closed doors.

a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 27, 2007 at 9:25 am

There are many problems left unresolved. Add to the those mentioned above, astroturf instead of grass at Encinal, inadequate bike routes and traffic calming solutions, precious playground space at Encinal usurped for District offices (the most blatent faux pas of all) and no facilities whatsovever planned for onsite afterschool care!

I encourage those of you who have taken the time to post your grievances to also attend the Board meeting April 4th at the District office at 7pm. Plan to stay awhile, meetings have been running 3-4 hours and this will be no exception I am sure. Invite your friends and neighbors. The decisions we make together now will effect future generations and are worth the effort.

This will arguably be our last chance to persuade the Board to reconsider some poor planning choices that currently appear to be scheduled for their approval.

Posted by manipulative incompetence
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 27, 2007 at 10:55 am

When you have a single architectural firm for all 4 campuses, no competitive bidding for design services on the different campuses, the firm always wants to enhance its portfolio with big, new, STATEMENT buildings. Remodels don't get more business like new buildings do.
When the taxpayers have been hoodwinked into giving a $100 million (plus interest) blank check to the board, comprised of members with no design/planning/development experience, it's no wonder that voters are outraged at how the Super. has manipulated the board into spending our dollars.
Today's Almanac report on Oak Knoll appears to be another disinformation campaign, claiming the huge new 35 foot high, 22000 sq. ft. bldg. will be 85 feet from Oak, when it will be 10 feet from the street (look at the site plan and existing bldgs.) It will literally block out the sun from the neighbors across the street. Do you think the board cares? And to suggest that the bond counsel in 1995 gave away access rights from Vine Street to the back of campus. Give me a break! Let's get some factual reporting Almanac! Concerned taxpayers and neighbors of these grandiose poorly planned developments should seriously question the competence of this whole process at the April 4th board meeting. We deserve better than this!

Posted by Renee Batti
associate editor of The Almanac
on Mar 28, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Renee Batti is a registered user.

Almanac staffer Marjorie Mader apologies for the unintentional error in her report “Proposed Oak Knoll School site plan raises neighbors’ concerns” in the March 28 Almanac. The set-back distance between Oak Avenue and the back of the proposed two-story multi-use building would be between 20 and 30 feet from the edge of Oak Avenue, not 85 feet as reported.
Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district’s bond program manager/planner, also provided the following additional information:
"The footprint of the new multi-use building with the fourth- and fifth-grade classroom complex, proposed by the Oak Knoll site design committee, would be 15,000 to16,000 square feet. The total square footage of the10 classrooms, art room, music room, stage, gym space, kitchen facility, and restrooms would be approximately 21,000 square feet.
“Although no building has yet been designed, it is anticipated the design would step up from lower heights near Oak Knoll Lane to a likely maximum height of approximately 30 feet, significantly below the height of the tree buffer along the Oak Avenue border.
“The proposed position of the building on the Oak Knoll site is set back approximately 110 feet from the edge of Oak Knoll Lane to the closest corner of the new building. The building would set back between 20 and 30 feet from the edge of Oak Avenue.
“The proposed adjacent staff parking lot (which would replace the grassy play area) would be about 9,000-10,000 square feet.”

Posted by puzzled voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 28, 2007 at 9:17 pm

Thanks for the correction, if anyone reads it. Will probably be in next week's correction box that nobody can spot. We stopped by on Oak today across from where this new bldg. is proposed (1905-15 Oak) and envisioned something the size of Draeger's across the street, 10 feet back from the fence. The "tall trees" that you mention are far to the left of the bldg. footprint, so the gap between the trees would be a 30 foot sheer face that would blot out the p.m sun and the view to the hills, take out the heritage oaks and the whole playground for the little kids. What was the site committee/board thinking? This 30 foot plus high bldg. looks like it would be 130 wide by 130 feet deep, so the cubic mass of this bldg. would be huge. Then a quarter acre parking lot next to it, plus driveway, to remove the rest of the lawn play area, heritage oaks and play structures. We thought the school district's design guidelines were to minimize impact on the neighbors, and design buildings in keeping with the neighborhood scale. It would be interesting to review the minutes of the site committee and the discussion of the 2 school board members who were on this committee if they ever considered these design guidelines and if they bothered to stand across the street on Oak from where they want to stick this thing. Guess not. We voted for the bond measure last June because we thought there would be some real benefits for the kids. Now we deeply regret that we have supported something that will cause irreversible damage to the neighbors. We've heard from some folks in Felton Gables that they have similar deep concerns of how this overdevelopment is being railroaded through on the Encinal site. Seems to us that there is a growth limit that this town should establish and not indulge the school board who seem to think they need to meet this runaway growth projection. We heard that this $90 Million bond issue was voted on by less than 40% of Menlo Park voters. Not quite a mandate in our book when the whole community is stuck with the tab. Population fluctuates. Baby booms come and go. School districts sold off surplus sites because of declining enrollment in the 70's. Is it possible that their future enrollment growth projections are fueling this campus overdevelopment mantra? We read daily about irreversible damage to our global environment due to loss of green space and overdevelopment. Is this the message that we want to teach our local children? Pave it over, max it out before the money runs out? Or, is it, practice what you preach only applies in theory? The Oak Knoll Mom you quoted as saying we live in an urban area as justification for this gross overdevelopment of that small school site seems to think that transplants to this area have a divine right to pave over what little green space we have left. What a sad commentary on how these parents are influencing our children. Gotta to have extra room to park that Suburban/Expedition/Navigator and we'll worry about the environment some other day. Isn't Easter/Passover next week? Good time for introspection, reflection on
what we teach our children?

Posted by athertonmom
a resident of Encinal School
on Mar 29, 2007 at 7:42 pm

Encinal has some issues with this board too. Check out there petition. I've gotten it twice and my kids don't even go there. I say we do the same only petition to RECALL this Board, and the Supe. Web Link

Posted by amender
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 29, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Amen! Thanks Atherton Mom for your timely input!
The problem with understanding this board mantra is that they are all Biz School trained finance/marketing geeks who pushed this bond issue through in early June last year, knowing that school parents would be pressured to vote for it, and parcel tax exempted seniors would vote with no cost to them to make it over the required 55% minimum. Seems like we all got conned on this $100 million tax burden. They trounced the Hillview School neighbors who have no recourse to the city council, and now they're encountering resistance from elementary school neighbors, many of whom have children attending those schools.
As they say, the devil is in the details, which were kept concealed for so long! The Law of Unintended Consequences will come back to haunt them over the next few months. Show up April 4th at their dog and pony show and let them know we have had quite enough of their extravagant schemes!

Posted by gladtobegone
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2007 at 8:41 am

I think those that are concerned should look at the Superintendent of MP schools. From his first presentations upon arrival at MP, one could tell he absolutely loves facility projects; and with a school community who loves to throw money at any new idea, you have a bad combination. It is almost as if MP has more money than good sense. New facilities does not equal excellent education. As someone who has moved away, my children are getting a much better education than they did in the MP school district and they are in buildings from the turn of the century with wood floors - imagine!

Posted by taxbill watcher
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 30, 2007 at 8:56 am

According to election records, 20% of absentee ballots were returned,
16% election day voting, so the grand turnout total may appear to be 38%, but analysis indicates most absentee voters are school parcel tax exempt seniors. So it was really under 20% turnout. Not really a mandate.
Smart voter info. also was non-specific about the details, but did acknowledge they already had engineers/architects give preliminary designs and estimates to generate that $91 million tab, so they must have been well along in the design stage.
Here's the link:
Web Link

Posted by head counter
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 30, 2007 at 10:22 am

Thanks for the illumination on low voter turnout overlooked but the 70% approval rating trumpeted like a mandate from the taxpayers in the district.
It seems odd that the proponents website was taken down March 9th, just 10 days before the build out for Oak Knoll School was revealed to the public on March 19th. Now one doesn't have a chance to compare the advocates' promo. stuff and any details other than smart voter counter ballot counter arguments that confirm they had this thing planned/engineered/ construction cost estimated well before they shoved it on the ballot and now gloating about no city/state review on the max build out plan. The Almanac's editorial in March 1, 2006, insisted that the district should show more plan detail to the voting public and not rush it onto the June ballot. I guess the proponents thought they should get the money first and then
divide and conquer each neighborhood. If I were a resident of Politzer or Hillview and watched with pride the big Hillview school remodel funded by the $22million '95 bond issue, only to see all that work being demolished while a mega campus is being shoved into my backyard I would start asking some tough questions on Apr. 4 at the board's meeting about WHO KNEW WHAT WHEN?!
Web Link
Web Link

Posted by so what's your plan
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 3, 2007 at 11:36 pm

OMG! They're right! It's almost as big as Draegers! We just looked at the back side of the store facing Curtis/Menlo Ave. Are they serious? With the 5 foot grade difference from Oak, that thing will stick up nearly 40 feet high and be well over 150 feet wide! We can't let this happen. Stop this craziness! Email the school board.
Better yet, go to the board meeting Wed. nite Apr. 4th at Encinal School and join with concerned neighbors throughout Menlo and Atherton and demand accountability for their outrageous schemes, before it's too late! Remember, it's your money they want to spend!

Posted by Calling a spade a spade
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2007 at 9:30 am

The Board has consistently justified their decision to put the TERC on the Encincal campus saying that it could be "repurposed" and turned into classrooms if enrollment continued to increase and if there was a need. They have said that the TERC needs to be built onsite to take advantage of 1 million in federal funds. But why if we are building this with the expressed expectation that it will be "repurposed" isn't the interior layout planned with the end goal in mind? Or in in otherwords, why not design the inside to accommodate kids and make the TERCs' needs work as opposed to the other way around, or as opposed to having to invest in just a few years - yet again - more money to reconfigure the inside?

Also, does anyone think that agreeing to build a TERC because federal funds are available but with the expressed expectation that the building will be repurposed is lacking in integrity? The federal funds being allocated are for technology advances, not for classrooms. The approach seems a bit duplicitious.

When this turns back into a classroom do we just ask for more Federal funds for a new TERC. Perhaps we might have skipped the whole $91 million bond measure an just rebuilt our classrooms one TERC at a time!

Posted by Jargon Challenged
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 5, 2007 at 10:34 am

Can someone tell me what a TERC is?

Posted by clarify
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 5, 2007 at 10:34 am

Just so folks know:

TERC stands for Teacher Education Resource Center

Posted by Sad day for MP schools
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 5, 2007 at 11:46 am

I have several friends on the school board and have always trusted them to make decent decisions for the schools. They have been so meticulous with the parcel taxes, metering out every dollar so we knew exactly what we were getting. The city of MP should be so careful!

But for the last year or so, the mood has changed. When I talk to people on the board, they stonewall me. I get the impression that they have a vision of what our schools should be, and they are going to push that vision through. The fact that they now have $100mm to play with only accentuates (in their minds) their mandate. If the parents don't approve, that just shows that we are ignorant of what's best for us and our kids, but they seem to forget who's footing the bills.

Posted by rhunterg
a resident of Encinal School
on Apr 5, 2007 at 12:12 pm

In an effort to visualize the new "Encinal Building", I tried to think how big other nearby buildings might be. The old Lucky's store on Alma in Palo Alto apparently is slightly above 13,000 sq. feet and functioned successfully as a supermarket for years and years.
Note that the following various replacement proposals for the old store seem to feature a WHOLE DARNED SUPERMAKET that's smaller in size (appx 20,000 sq. ft.) than the new Encinal multi-story bldg. (as I read it - 22,000 sq. ft., PLUS related parking) and in a residential neighborhood?
I must have read the sizes wrong? That would be far far too crazy ? ? ?
Following are just fast, down-and-dirty quotes pulled from the first things that turned up on Google:
"So, Thursday night he'll {Alma Plaza landowner] be back before the planning commission, . . . . . . . . 24,000 square feet in retail, enough space for a mid-size grocery store, a coffee shop and a couple of other small stores.. . . . . "[Merc News]
"Some local neighbors, aided by the Midtown Residents Association (in an effort to save the old Co-Op Market in Midtown) demanded the city "Draw the Line" at 20,000 square feet for supermarkets.
"Whole Foods, . . . . content at 20,000 square feet, . . . . . ."
Gosh - maybe we should just open a whole new retail complex in the building ? ? A new concept in neighborhood/educational/retail integration - anchored by a 3-story building!

Posted by Carpe TERCy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 5, 2007 at 7:50 pm

rhunterg, love the idea! It would save a lot of us a tremendous amount of time if we (or our babysitters, or grandparents, or whoever) could pick up groceries when we pick up our kids. Revenue generator too for the cities! (probably forbidden in Atherton, though)

Posted by OK by me
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 8, 2007 at 7:05 am

Have you seen the protest banners, flyers around Oak KNoll School?
Interesting reading.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2007 at 10:01 am

If the school is rebuilt to accomodate the influx of all these kids, how long is the projected high enrollment expected? Hillview and Oak Knoll did all of their remodeling and then found they didn't project long enough into the future and discovered they needed more space. There must be economists out there who can project future numbers of young families moving in. When I moved into the neighborhood 19 years ago, there were young families but the numbers remained stable for this many years. I expect the "boom" will not last and these young families will mature. How long is a bigger school needed?

Posted by oak knoll neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2007 at 9:57 pm

I never see anyone playing at Encinal during non school hours. There is so much space there why are we trying to crowd an already crowded area? Build on Encinal land. That lovely space that the district provided for themselves could possibly be shared.

Posted by oak knoll parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2007 at 10:21 am

The school district has already committed to redistributing elementary school enrollment so that Encinal will increase to being about the same enrollment as Oak Knoll. They are also moving some services that are currently housed at Oak Knoll over to Laurel and Encinal to make more room for classrooms. The district's website has a lot of good information that explains all of this.

Posted by East of El Camino
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 9, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Oak Knoll Neighbor, you "never see anyone playing at Encinal during non school hours"??? You must not get out much. Those fields are in almost constant use by neighborhood kids as well as kids playing soccer and baseball.

Come by and take a look sometime. Despite the rumors you've heard about the neighborhoods east of El Camino, it's really not that dangerous over here. Granted, we're not as elite (or elitist) as you folks, but there's no reason we should be the dumping ground for all the school programs you don't want to house at Oak Knoll. We've got plenty of our own (eg TERC).

Posted by oak knoll parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2007 at 2:19 pm

I was at the series of public meetings where the reconfiguration options were discussed, and it seems as though the district was attempting to come up with a fair and equitable distribution of enrollment and special services across all three elementary campuses. If you check out the information on the district website, you can get educated on all this yourself. Encinal is the largest campus, but net of the space for the district office and teacher resource center, the acreage is about the same as Oak Knoll. So it's entirely fair that these two campuses should have the same enrollment. Laurel is much smaller, and its enrollment is planned accordingly. We all come together at Hillview, we all share equally in the tax revenues and foundation contribution. Let's try to work together in a friendly, respectful and cooperative way. I have lots of friends at Laurel and Encinal, and we all share the same desires for the education of our children.

Posted by OK by me
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 10, 2007 at 9:18 pm

Nice photo of the banner Almanac. Now if only the board will listen to reason on the 25th. It's all for the kids!

Posted by no fault insurance
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 21, 2007 at 9:33 pm

Rumor circulating that the design team doesn't want to discuss the earthquake fault lines that apparently branch out from near Alameda Blockbuster and run in front of Oak Knoll school, and back corner of school campus, because they don't want parents to hit the panic button and delay board approval for the preferred plan. Seems like this needs a good airing out before they are locked into a site for this big new building. There ought to be some reliable city or other govt. agency maps to show to the public where these earthquake zones might be shown and not endanger our kids. Any volunteers to go over to the city library or better yet, the geologic survey offices that sell maps on Middlfield (we think it says map sales on a sign near there?). Do you need some kind of federal security clearance to buy a local geology map? I dunno.

Posted by good sam
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 28, 2007 at 10:32 pm

such shameful behavior by the [portion removed by Almanac staff] from Vine-University Park towards the OK and district on Wed. nite. Use the play areas, park your cars on the few Vine spots, plant your "peace" garden on the school's strip.
But support the school's needs for expansion to accomodate the kids? Not in our frontyard, or is it, across from our frontyards. Isn't it swell that you get to use the facilities off hours and don't pay a dime for the upkeep because they're in a different school district. [Portion deleted by Almanac staff] What a shame that Sup. Gordon doesn't have a more deserving constituency. Get real "neigbors(?)" [Portion removed by Almanac staff] Any suggestions?

Posted by Concerned Menlo Park Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2007 at 5:43 pm

I attended the April 25th meeting and thought that it was a total sham!The superintendent and the school board are basically trying to railroad thru. a proposal that is flawed and will permanently damage and reduce the residential value and quality of life in the Central Menlo neighborhood. I also think that the Vine Street (Menlo County, not City) folks may have implicitly threatened legal action against the school and this may have factored into the school board's thinking - on both not putting a new building near Vine and also not having additional parking or traffic go thru. Vine.

The school board's recommended proposal (Proposal F), recommends a new parking lot that opens onto Oak - this appears to be extremely hazardous and will create new safety issues on a street that already has traffic and safety issues. Also this requires permission from both Stanford and the Menlo city and it will be interesting to see if the board can railroad their needs thru. these organizations while adversely impacting the Menlo neighborhood.

I have heard that there are new and improved proposals being presented to the superintendent Ken by neighbors in Central Menlo Park but that he is unwilling to give these the serious consideration they deserve. The new proposals suggest a way to maintain large playing areas while not having a single two story building be built - instead the proposals suggest two single story buildings which accomplishes the school's objective to expand while also maintaining the right feel and safety in the residential neighborhood.

There is a need for additional oversight over this process being run by the superintendent and board, before it is too late. Their proposal is harmful for the Menlo neighborhood - there are better ways to accomplish the school's objectives, without destroying the immediate neighborhood that Central Menlo residents cherish.

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