Old, leaky building riddled with dry rot soon will be a thing of the past for elementary schools like Monta Loma. The Mountain View Whisman School District approved building plans last week that will bring many of its elementary schools up to a "common standard," including spacious libraries and multipurpose rooms.
But questions still remain on what to do with Stevenson and Theuerkauf Elementary, which share a site with limited space, and whether the $43 million earmarked for upgrades to Castro Elementary could use a little trimming.
Members of the District Facilities Committee spent the last six months figuring out how to spend the remaining $100 million in Measure G bond money on new school facilities and renovated classrooms, and developed a base facility standard that keeps all the schools within the budget and fairly similar to one another.
"There's a principle of equality here," said committee member Patrick Neschleba. "You're not going to have one school that has a better multi-use room than another. You're not going to have another school that has a better library than another."
The facilities standards call for new, 3,000-square-foot libraries and administration buildings at each school, as well as multipurpose rooms big enough to house the school's entire student population at the same time. The standards also call for modernization of existing classrooms and any new classrooms needed to bump schools up to a total of 18 classrooms.
Board members voted 4-1 for the plans, with board member Greg Coladonato dissenting. Coladonato said he wanted to see more trade-offs and more options that would bring the total cost of the projects both over and under the $100 million budget. His concern, he said, is that construction costs will go over-budget and there won't be enough money left for the schools scheduled to get upgrades last.
But picking and choosing from the list may cause some problems, according to Todd Lee, construction project manager for Greystone West. Lee said Bubb, Huff and Landels Elementary all have libraries and multi-use rooms with serious seismic issues that need to be addressed, and called the current facilities "dysfunctional" and in need of an upgrade.
"You're talking about leaving libraries at those three sites at a 2,400-square-foot portable," he said. "You're leaving your multi-use room with horribly undersized kitchens."
If multi-use rooms or libraries are cut from the project list, Lee said it would also lead to disparities across the district and substandard facilities at some schools that could mean the difference between a 5,000-square-foot library and a portable that's half the size.
Lee said there will be some places to make cuts later on, but the savings won't be enough to open a school in the Whisman and Slater neighborhood area.
"I promise you I will come back to you with some options to cut costs," Lee said. "I do not believe you're going to find enough options to cut costs out of this to be able to afford your ninth campus."
The board agreed to have construction start at Monta Loma Elementary first, which has the highest maintenance costs of any school in the district. Monta Loma missed out on some improvements during the district's last bond measure because bond funds ran out, and the aging facilities dating back to the 1950s have dry rot and issues related to drainage and leakage problems.
The committee made a number of cuts and slimmed down the project list to stay in the budget, including ditching solar panels, flexible classroom walls and extra outdoor study areas for the schools.
Special ed classrooms added
While previous recommendations from the committee said there was no room in the budget for permanent special education classrooms at all of the sites, Neschleba said district staff revisited the plans and found that a portion of the 4,000 square feet designated for "multi-use space" can be set aside to construct additional classrooms at a no extra cost.
At the May 21 board meeting, some board members voiced concerns that the committee's recommendations included upgrades to the elementary school kitchens but left out the special education classrooms. Parents complained that students in special education are routinely transferred from school to school when enrollment numbers rise at a campus and space gets tight, causing stress and trauma to their children.
Board president Chris Chiang said he had trouble approving $2.5 million for new kitchens when special education classrooms are left out of the budget.
Both are now included in the final recommendations, but Neschleba defended the decision to include the "full-prep" kitchens in the plans at the June 11 meeting. He said the district stands to reduce its operating costs by enticing more kids with food prepared on-site, rather than having it shipped in from the central kitchen at Crittenden Middle School, and it would help to reduce the stigma associated with school food.
"There are schools in our district where getting school lunch is a sign that you're socio-economically disadvantaged," Neschleba said. "Getting more kids to participate in the lunch program because they want to is going to reduce that stigma."
Decision held off for Theuerkauf and Stevenson
Absent from the recommendations at the board meeting were any specific plans on what to do with Theuerkauf Elementary and the Stevenson PACT program, which share a site next to the district office.
The District Facilities Committee left money in the budget for both schools, but scrapped its earlier recommendation to have the campuses share a new multi-use room and library. Instead, the committee recommended that the board continue to study ways the two schools can share the 17-acre site. And while the district prepares to draft designs for Monta Loma, Huff, Bubb and Landels, PACT parents and teachers voiced frustration that upgrades to their parent-participation school have been put off.
Jennifer Pierson, a PACT parent, told the board she wanted the renovations for Stevenson PACT sooner rather than later, and that the inadequate, small portables on the campus continue to hinder the students' ability to learn. Pierson said when the school invites an author to speak to kids as part of Project Cornerstone, only two grade levels can see the presentation at a time because of the space constraints of the 1,600-square-foot multi-use room. She said the library is only 960 square feet, meaning only 20 to 25 kids can be inside at a time.
"Our teachers and families work very hard to make sure our facilities situation is not detrimental to our students' learning, and inevitably it is," Pierson said.
PACT teacher Terri Hygate urged the board to move Stevenson to the head of the pack for facilities improvements. She said the school continues to operate out of the worst facilities in the district despite a promise from the district that the current facilities are temporary and would be replaced with bigger, permanent buildings.
Hygate explained that her cramped, 700-square-foot kindergarten classroom housed 28 children last year, and while the school's other kindergarten classroom is slightly larger, they had a student in a wheelchair.
"To make that facility ADA compliant our other kindergarten teacher had to remove every single chair from that classroom so the children had to work the whole year standing up," Hygate said.
Coladonato said he has been against approving any capital plan that leaves out schools for months, and that his biggest fear is that the school district is going to run out of money. He said that extends to the board's decision last year to commit $58 million to the middle schools without considering what trade-offs would need to be made for the elementary schools.
The committee recommended against delaying a decision to go forward with plans for Monta Loma, Bubb, Huff and Landels, emphasizing that the district has already lost millions in "opportunity costs" by delaying construction projects. Neschleba said the district loses about $220,000 every week that it waits, and encouraged board members to keep that in mind as they make decisions on how to move forward.
While district staff still need to figure out what to do with Stevenson PACT and Theuerkauf, and schematic designs for Castro Elementary have yet to go through a careful vetting process outside of the Castro Site Planning Committee, Neschleba encouraged the board to get moving on the uncontroversial projects at Monta Loma, Bubb, Huff and Landels as soon as possible.
"There's 2,150 students in those schools today," Neschleba said. "We don't think they should be waiting while the district figures out what to do with the rest of the schools."