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School board: 'optimistic' about new North Bayshore schools

Help from city, Google and Sobrato needed to handle huge influx of students

Calling it a big opportunity to design "creative" urban schools in dense new neighborhoods north of Highway 101, Mountain View Whisman School District board members signaled Tuesday night that they're ready and willing to work with the city on plans to accommodate thousands of new students expected from massive housing growth in North Bayshore.

The special Aug. 29 board meeting served as an important step for trustees to plan ahead for the Mountain View's North Bayshore Precise Plan, which is near completion and would allow as many as 9,850 homes to be built in the city's northern tech park -- all of them developed by Google and the Sobrato Organization. District officials say the development would cause enrollment to swell by 1,594 elementary school students and 764 middle school students, requiring as many as four new schools.

There should be some room left at the district's northernmost schools for some of the new students from the new neighborhoods, but it still leaves a massive shortfall, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told board members. Crittenden Middle School could potentially house 264 more students, and there's some excess capacity at Monta Loma and Theuerkauf elementary schools. Add it all up and the schools could fit a grand total of 448 students, meaning it would still leave 1,910 kids without a place to go to school.

Financing new school construction falls into the same problem. The district would receive an estimated $16 million in developer fees to build new campuses, which pales in comparison to the total $165 million estimated to construct three elementary schools and a middle school.

The new housing's projected "student-generation" rates come directly from the district's hired demographic firm, Jack Schreder & Associates, which uses a ratio of approximately 1 student for every 10 market rate homes, and 4 students for every 10 Below-Market Rate (BMR) homes. The affordable housing generation rates are drawn from specific affordable housing developments in Mountain View, including the Franklin St. Family apartments and the Tyrella Gardens apartments.

The staggering scale of enrollment growth the district faces is cause for plenty of anxiety, but Rudolph said housing in North Bayshore also presents a "unique opportunity" for the district to jump in early and work with the city and developers to fit school campuses in the area, even if it means multi-story campuses or shared-space facilities. He said the district could build a school alongside dedicated park space, or could consider a deal in which city services -- like a public library -- are housed on school campuses.

At a previous board meeting, school board members agreed to hire an architect who would draft a North Bayshore Master Facilities Plan, laying out urban school designs that fit the higher-density region. The plan likely won't be completed until at least next year, Rudolph said.

Board member Greg Coladonato said he wasn't too concerned about the housing plans in North Bayshore despite the projected 46 percent bump in student enrollment. He said he is confident that Mountain View City Council members won't forget something as important as public schools when approving massive residential growth in a region currently devoid of housing.

"I'm pretty confident that when we get all the facts together with the City Council they are going to make the responsible decision, and make sure that this is not somehow forgotten," Coladonato said. "I'm optimistic about the outcome."

Board member Ellen Wheeler voiced total support for the city's housing plans, focusing more on the prospect that nearly 2,000 new affordable homes could be available through the city's Below Market Rate (BMR) housing program, which gives priority to local teachers.

"From a community standpoint, I am very happy that the city of Mountain View and these companies are working to build affordable housing and building housing where people live," she said. "Those are the two drivers that are important for our society going forward."

Before launching into the meeting Tuesday night, board members held an hour-long closed session meeting to discuss real estate with both Sobrato and Google. Though the board took no action, the meeting marks the first in what will likely be a series of real estate negotiations between the school district and the major housing developers in North Bayshore.

The proposed changes to the North Bayshore Precise Plan includes three planned neighborhood areas -- Joaquin, Shorebird and Pear -- and each one is expected to generate between 706 and 946 new students that will need to be educated by the Mountain View Whisman district. While the existing policy has been to create a central neighborhood school in each region of the city, that may not be necessary in such a compact area, said board member Laura Blakely. Walking from La Avenida Street in the southeast end of North Bayshore to the middle of Shorebird Way is less than a mile and a 15-minute walk. If real estate is hard to come by in the area, she said, it may make sense to consolidate schools into a larger campus with shared facilities, similar to Castro and Mistral elementary schools.

What doesn't seem like a good idea, Blakely said, is sending kids in North Bayshore south of Highway 101 to go to school, which she said would add to the traffic congestion on the city's most crowded thoroughfares, Shoreline Boulevard, Rengstorff Avenue and San Antonio Road.

"Anybody who commutes to 101 knows how hard it is to get over (the freeway) with the traffic today," she said. "It's really imperative that the neighborhoods are self-contained and have schools in them in order to prevent further impact on our roads."

Mountain View has been planning for years to increase its housing production at a rapid rate, putting significant pressure on the local school districts to find ways to accommodate unprecedented enrollment growth over a short period of time. Looking at housing growth across the city, including recently approved projects, the North Bayshore Precise Plan and the East Whisman Precise Plan, Rudolph said the district is looking at a total enrollment increase of about 4,086 students -- nearly doubling the district's current student population.

While Rudolph has made clear he supports the city's vision for growth and building housing where jobs are located, he said the district has to make clear that building homes is going to generate children, and there's not enough space or money without help from the city and housing developers.

"We embrace this change and we look at it as a very unique opportunity to do something creative and different," he said. "But at the same time we need funding to actually do it, we need space to do it, we need land. And we don't have the resources currently available to us."

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