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Tour highlights flaws in Portola Valley school facilities

Original post made on Jan 30, 2018

As the board of the Portola Valley School District ponders putting a bond measure on the ballot in November, district leaders led community members on a tour of the district's two campuses, pointing out where they'd like to make improvements.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 30, 2018, 9:19 AM

Comments (15)

31 people like this
Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 30, 2018 at 11:15 am

Got it. You need new drainage, hot water in the faculty bathroom, mold in some areas that need repair, blinds in some classrooms. How in the world does this add up to $80 million in bonds that is being proposed. I'd start with a new consultant. Get a project manager in there to detail the problems, put a cost to repair, evaluate wants versus needs, and make a proposal. The recent article in the almanac that cited a recent study forecasting a 17% drop in enrollment in the future and the items listed in this walking tour don't add up to anything close to $80MM. The school district and board should be honest with the community as opposed to starting a PR push for a bond measure.

30 people like this
Posted by Another PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jan 30, 2018 at 2:57 pm

I totally get the need for deferred maintenance and refurbishment of aging buildings. I just would like to see very specific estimates from from an independently chosen appraisal firm.

I live just down the street from CMS, and the exterior lighting is more than adequate. The gym is also fine, and I've never seen the marquee fall over, but I'll take that as a minor fix. The Annex has always been used for Administration; no idea why that is supposed to become "a place for the community to gather," as we then would have to find a new spot for the administration.

I propose this: we remember that this is a public middle school, with a declining population. Let's fix the buildings so that they are safe, sound, and mold-free. Install security cameras. Make sure there is hot and cold running water. Get the science teacher supplies, and and other needed teacher supplies, and install some blinds and so forth. Let's leave the Annex and the gym alone; they are fine. CMS is not hosting professional basketball tournaments, and they do have a stage that is perfectly adequate for play performances. Having watched thousands of gallons of water drain off the soccer field during the irrigation in the middle of the starkest drought in California history, I have to express some doubt about the process for addressing this.

I agree with PV Resident. I just don't see how this adds up to 80 million dollars. Let's get MULTIPLE BIDS for the work to be done, and not just from local contractors. No design-and-build firms. We seem to have a great new School Board in place; surely they want to revisit the financials before putting anything on a ballot. Honestly, I just don't understand why there is such a huge push for this 80 million dollar bond.

5 people like this
Posted by A current parent
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Jan 30, 2018 at 4:16 pm

A current parent is a registered user.

A few things to know:
Re the gym at CMS ... of course we aren't hosting professional basketball tournaments, as the person posting before me sarcastically asked. But if my understanding is correct, we can't even host middle school games at CMS b/c the court is the wrong size. That means our teams play all of their games "away" at other schools. Of course that certainly is adequate and many will balk at any suggestion otherwise. But it's sort of a shame for the kids never to be able to play at home, and it puts PV a notch below other, neighboring districts where the facilities are much better. All "away" games also means more driving for our local parents, which is an annoyance for some but not all.
In addition, the gym is used for many different purposes, including school plays (for which it is thoroughly inadequate). It's also used for school social events, assemblies, summer camps, community events, etc etc etc. It has served the community well and there are those who feel it's time to upgrade so that it can continue to fulfill all of these multiple roles, but do it better. (Again, neighboring districts do it better...)
Sadly, upgrading a facility like that is very, very expensive. We've moved beyond the "barn raising" days when we could do this sort of thing at a low cost. The current reality is that building in this day and age costs a lot of money.
As for the soccer fields and drainage... Those fields have been a mess for years. And for years, the district has been telling the local soccer leagues that it won't reseed them until it can fix the drainage and irrigation problems. Why throw good money after bad, after all, right? So we're stuck in a catch 22: The district won't give us well-seeded fields until the drainage and irrigation issues are fixed; and the community balks at the cost of the infrastructure fixes required to make reseeding cost effective. Remember that those fields are used for AYSO, Alpine Strikers, adult leagues, flag football, lunchtime recess, summer camps, birthday parties, weekend recreation and more. In the meantime, they've caused countless wrenched ankles, more than a few sprained ones and at least one broken bone that I know of.
Just like the gym, the soccer fields have served the district and the town well. Perhaps it's time to give them the TLC they need. And sadly, TLC in this day and age is costly.
Bottom line: Many of the district's facilities are aging and need to be replaced. Many were not fully up to standard to begin with. For example, Ormondale for years has had temporary "portable" units for classrooms that for all practical purposes have become permanent. How long should the kids continue to do their music classes in a temporary portable? How many more quick fixes should we do to alleviate mold before we fix the underlying problems? How far behind neighboring districts do we want to fall, meanwhile watching children move to private schools with better facilities? (And how that impacts the closeness of the community and its kids.)
Why an $80 million bond for just a few small fixes? Isn't that fiscally responsible? Not if you're reading carefully. The lower $40 million bond being shopped around is for the absolute must-have items (the infrastructure upgrades, hot water, etc) The $80 million figure is the "nice-to-have" dream scenario that includes infrastructure fixes, classroom upgrades, a brand-spanking-new gym for both campuses, nice STEM facilities, cool recreational areas, etc. The figures people are asking for do exist. This current "PR drive" is an effort to educate all of you about what the must-haves vs the nice-to-haves are. Read these articles carefully, talk to current parents, walk the campuses yourselves, talk to teachers and admins, become informed. You'll feel better about your vote once you have the full picture.

3 people like this
Posted by Eric Hartwig
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jan 30, 2018 at 6:21 pm

I'd like to thank Barbara Wood and The Almanac for taking the time to tour our facilities with us. As many Town residents know, the Portola Valley School District has been engaged in a lengthy examination of its facility needs and has held public meetings and School Board meetings to share our thinking and to hear that of others. Part of this process was polling a sample of Town voters last fall, probing residents' opinions on a wide variety of facilities-related needs -- some quite basic and timely and others consistent with the level of investment from other local public schools.

At this point in the process, we are still determining priorities and drafting a master plan. Input from staff, parents and the community has been—and will continue to be—a key part of the process. No decisions have been made yet -- except to take more time and to provide more opportunities for interested parties to become involved between now and a potential bond election in November of this year. Our thanks to all who have shared their viewpoints thus far through focus groups, polling responses, and school board meeting public comments.

The Board of Trustees is holding a study session on the Facilities Master Plan next week, Tuesday, February 6, from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. in room 102 of Corte Madera School. We welcome public input and invite all who are interested in the future of our public schools to attend.

Eric Hartwig
Portola Valley School District

33 people like this
Posted by Stop the Insanity
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 30, 2018 at 8:41 pm

Really, none of this at CMS should even add up to 1 million never mind 40 or 80. This is insane! Now that Barth is gone, someone needs to audit that place and fast.

-it is called the MUR (multi-use room) for a reason.
-a staff restroom that doesn't always have hot water. SO???
-lack of security cameras; Few schools have them!
-no blinds for some classroom windows (one is covered with paper; another with bulletin boards); All those smarts and no one can buy blinds???
-poor exterior lighting; and malfunctioning equipment and lack of supplies for the science room. I do NOT believe this for one minute!!! Where is all the STEM money going??
- and the school's marquee falls over at times . Well then, 40 million is about right!!

As for Ormondale,
-a kitchen space in the multipurpose room big enough for an entire classroom of students WHY????
-outdoor passages children use become slippery when wet. That is why it is called OUTSIDE people!!!

36 people like this
Posted by Liesel
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 31, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Liesel is a registered user.

It feels like Ground Hog Day! We are still paying off the bonds from 2001 -- with the schools being rebuilt in the years thereafter. Those improvements were suppose to last - not require being completely redone ~15 years later. If the election is today, I could not vote for this and I doubt many of the residents would. I suggest the Board and the administration get a more realistic proposal on the table and explain what happened to the schools that this community so generously rebuilt and entrusted to their care not that long ago.

32 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2018 at 7:03 pm

The shocking thing about this article is the lack of outrage that the district made a conscious decision that lead to an environment that is a health risk to the children.

That is the impact of "deferred maintenance", folks. They CHOSE to not maintain the campuses. And now they want you to bail them out.

Portola Valley SD is rolling in money. Observe:

* Revenue/student in California, all districts, 15-16: $12,050
* Revenue/student in California, Elementary districts, 15-16: $11,431
Source: Web Link

* Revenue/student in Portola Valley, 15-16: $23,956
Source: Web Link

PVSD revenues/student are almost TWICE the State average.

With that kind of revenue, the district can easily afford the maintenance that they chose to "defer".

It is illegal to use GO bonds for maintenance.
Source: Web Link

20 people like this
Posted by Deja Vu
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 31, 2018 at 7:56 pm

As a long term participant and observer of the PVSD, it is very important that it does not repeat the mistakes of the past that put the district at a disadvantage and allowed people to siphon money from the coffers.

1: When the current incarnation of CMS was built, there was no hot water put in any of the buildings aside from the main one, not even plumbed for it. Teachers can use the bathrooms in the main building just a walk away. Every building would need a brand new plumbing system that would include intensive digging up.

2: A few years after Internet improvements were installed, the entire wing near the back parking lot needed an entirely new electrical system. The subcontractor had gone bankrupt and no money or repairs were recovered.

3: In more recent times, there was a gas leak near the back building and the concrete was dug up for months. No money was recovered from the plumbing company.

4: There were several break-ins into the computer lab, too. It was reinforced and it should be okay now.

5: One of the last contractors to work with the district was married to a former employee and had personal and professional relationships with the superintendent at the time and many community members. Any repairs done need to be thought out very carefully with companies that have no relationship with board members or teachers or administrators. Contracts, relationships, and expenses need to be very transparent, constantly monitored, and contain no clauses that are confidential.

Like this comment
Posted by pr doppelgänger
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Jan 31, 2018 at 8:05 pm

"PVSD revenues/student are almost TWICE the State average"... but PVSD schools have half or less absolute numbers of students than the state averages for their counterparts. Since 0.5n*$23,956 < n*$12,050, where n is the number of district students, the spending ratio is not really indicative of any advantage in this case for PVSD in terms of absolute dollars for improvements. Moreover, if comparing to other less expensive parts of California, those spending ratios may need to be normalized based on cost of living or labor/building costs.

43 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2018 at 12:53 pm

"PVSD schools have half or less absolute numbers of students than the state averages"

That swings both ways: PVSD has fewer facilities to maintain, lowering their costs for maintenance.

And it's interesting you don't dispute my other points, which is smart of you; its indisputable they CHOSE to not sufficiently maintain the buildings in which our children learn, creating an environment that resulted in mold.

"those spending ratios may need to be normalized based on cost of living or labor/building costs."

Well, let's look at the revenue/student of several other peninsula & South Bay districts, since the labor/building costs will be comparable:

$10,616 : Belmont/RWC ESD
$10,618 : Burlingame ESD
$11,011 : Los Gatos Union ESD
$11,301 : San Carlos ESD
$13,230 : Los Altos ESD
$18,799 : Las Lomitas ESD

Even using Las Lomitas as a benchmark, Portola Valley should be able to apply $5,000 PER STUDENT towards mold-prevention maintenance.

PVSD has more than enough money to take steps to prevent mold from growing in the classrooms and bathrooms! Believing otherwise is just enabling bad decision making.

31 people like this
Posted by Losing Faith in PVSD
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 1, 2018 at 4:35 pm

I'm beyond angry now...I'm just disappointed.

I thought the board was delusional for thinking we'd all sign up for their teardown fantasy. Then they fully bungled the survey last year. Now they've bungled the tour. What made it seem like a good idea to highlight missing blinds and school supplies and paint? All to rationalize a massive capital spend that's disproportionate to everything in town - the ethos, the demographics, the culture...everything but the ambitions of...who? Who really thinks this is a good idea? Who's willing to put up more than other-peoples-money for this shining-campus-on-a-hill? Are the teachers willing to take a paycut to fund just 1% of this?

I agree with the others. If PVSD can't distinguish between deferred maintenance, current budget items and LT capital requirements, why should we trust them to run this process? If they can't sell us convincingly - as opposed to this JV tour & survey exercise - why should we trust them to run this process? If they can't take care of the assets the citizens and taxpayers have put in their care, why should we trust them to run this process?

Once you've shown me that you've taken care of what you've got and have made the most of it, then let's hear why you need more.

17 people like this
Posted by Another PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 1, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Re: "Falling behind neighboring communities." One thing that comes to mind is recent news that Las Lomitas was/is considering removing the artificial turf that they installed....twice. The first time it was installed incorrectly, and rolled, or wrinkled, or something like that. If I remember correctly, there is concern now that the artificial turf is unhealthy for the kids. It sounds like that is a debate, but let us learn something here: just because you want, want, want something---particularly if it's because someone else has it---it doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do.

Re: the gym not being regulation size. Having away games for basketball is an inconvenience to parents? Really? Come on. That's not an argument for completely demolishing and replacing a middle school gym, to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. Somehow, all of us who have had (multiple) children go through Ormondale and CMS didn't seem to be overly bothered by our kids playing basketball at other middle schools. In fact, it never would have occurred to us to make a big deal about it.

We need our schools to be safe, mold-free, and sound for the kids and for the teachers. No argument here. However, recent PV history shows us that we need very strict oversight of funding, very strict oversight of construction and maintenance bids, and extreme transparency.

Mr. Hartwig emphasizes that there has been community outreach to discuss this plan, including polling a "sample" of the PV community. This is a small town---please poll everyone. As well, inviting the local media for a walk-through seems disingenuous; it makes me feel like this was part of a publicity campaign in favor of the $80 million dollar bond.

Aging infrastructure obviously needs to be repaired, and done correctly. It also needs to be done in a cost-effective manner, by qualified contractors that have no relationship with this community, or with any members of the school community. We have an honest and forthright school board; please take your time to explore all of the options for the schools. Let's not overspend on things that the kids don't care about, and let's address the safety issues first. I can think of a lot of things that kids care about more than some of these "dream" wants. Mold---that's a problem. Gym size? Not so much.

21 people like this
Posted by Dad
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 1, 2018 at 4:45 pm

How about fixing what’s going on inside the classrooms. That’s where you could really make a difference.

14 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 4, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Tankless water heaters are cheap !! No need for a school bond for that item !!!!! There is one less item on then list of repairs

1 person likes this
Posted by Support PV Schools
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2018 at 2:22 pm

Good People of Portola Valley:

You have excellent, high performing public schools. Remember that the property tax money the schools receive go to operational expenses (more than 85% of any school district budget is salaries and benefits). Granted, the District might have spent a little more money on Deferred maintenance over the years but lets get real: There are 40 year old portables serving students; that is twice their life span. They need to be replaced and only bond money pays for that kind of expense (not general fund money). You need to replace them with a real building, not another pre-fab portable or Project Frog piece of junk. (Visit South San Francisco Unified if you want a lesson on why to avoid Project Frog buildings--leaking roofs, moldy exteriors, cheap finishes, etc).

Your plumbing is at end of life. It is not just about hot water. Your mechanical systems are at end of life (or far beyond it). They need to be replaced. You have drainage problems from when the school was first built that have never been addressed. There is mold in some rooms and areas of the school because the flashing and roofing is old and needs to be completely ripped off. (Likely there is dry rot and a host of other issues). The classrooms do not have the type of 21st century furniture and technology that even the most basic start ups have.

Your schools have aged from 2001, when you last passed a bond. The longer these items are deferred, the greater the expense to the District when they are finally addressed. You can't put off modernizing and replacing buildings constructed decades ago--and remember, public school construction is expensive because of State rules imposed by the department of State architect and bidding and prevailing wage requirements added by the legislature. That is not the fault of the District or its leaders.

The people who put off these repairs are long gone from the District, so lets not punish seven and eight year old children who are forced to learn in a dumpy 40 year old portable. You have a seasoned, new superintendent who has real experience in facilities and construction (as well as wine drinking!). Let him do his thing--he will make your schools into community assets again and great places to learn. He isn't do this because it's easy. Public school construction is complex and messy, but when it is all over, it is a beautiful thing to see our children learning and growing in attractive, well designed facilities.

Don't be a Grinch--support the schools and support a PV bond.

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