The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District laid out its ambitious new vision for both of its high school campuses Monday night, complete with larger classrooms, more room for student services and gym space that can finally accommodate the myriad of school-sponsored extracurricular activities.
The draft Facilities Master Plan, which school board members reviewed at the Oct. 23 board meeting, outlines how the district could substantially revamp both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools by adding new two-story classroom buildings, expanding cafeteria and library space and getting rid of aging facilities and portables long past their prime. The overhaul is expected to cost anywhere from $108 million to $119 million at Los Altos and $121 million to $132 million at Mountain View, according to the plan.
A critical component of the plan is fitting in 29 additional classrooms -- 15 at Los Altos and 14 at Mountain View -- giving the schools more room to grow. Demographic studies show the school district's enrollment is expected to increase to 4,576 students by the 2021-22 school year, up from 4,101 last year, and both schools are already struggling to fit the existing number of students.
The growing pains have cropped up in different ways over the years. The district scrambled to accommodate 2017-18 enrollment at Los Altos this year by converting its old weight room into makeshift classroom spaces. Mental health services have also been squeezed into fairly unorthodox nooks on the two campuses, and Mountain View High School has struggled to bring back its wrestling team for years because there was simply no available place on campus for it to practice.
In the case of both schools, limited space is forcing the district to build up. Wings of classrooms would be demolished and replaced with two-story classroom buildings, and the front offices are swapped out for a larger shared space combining administrative and student services. This effectively grants schools more room for the College and Career Center, academic counseling and mental health services, which have been strapped for space over the last decade.
The plan takes it a step further at Mountain View High, calling for the school's new cafeteria to be included on the first floor of the student services building, which would be located in a much better spot -- just north of the Main Quad -- than its current location south of the multipurpose room, according to Mark Quattrocchi of Quattrocchi Kwok Architects. Under the plan, the current cafeteria would instead be home to the school's drama classes, choir and ensemble.
The master plan also includes new auxiliary gyms at both schools, though the fate of the current small gym differs. Mountain View High's small gym would be converted into a multipurpose space for dance, wrestling and performance arts, and could potentially be divided via a moveable wall to maximize its future use. Los Altos High School's new small gym, on the other hand, replaces the existing one, which is essentially falling apart. A report from last year found pretty much everything about the building -- from the roof and the windows to the exterior cement plaster -- was in poor condition, and that the building was hardly worth saving.
The downside of the big plans and two-story construction is that the costs add up fast. The two-story classroom building alone is likely to cost more than $40 million at each school. If the school board decides to tack on additional items -- like a new facility for Freestyle Academy and upgrades at Alta Vista High School, the adult education center and the district office -- the master plan would cost between $270 million to $295 million to build out.
Quattrocchi tried to take the edge off the sticker shock, noting that each line of the budget includes a huge range of non-construction costs including contingency money, demolition, annual cost escalation, testing and inspection. He said it's also important to remember that public school construction is just naturally going to to be more expensive than private business and home building.
"The cost of education work is beyond the pale," he said.
Board member Joe Mitchner said the package of construction and modernization projects seems too expensive, but was uneasy about making cost-cutting suggestions on the spot during the first round of review. Although Quattrocchi suggested that the Oct. 23 meeting was an ideal time to start taking board feedback on the scope and scale of the projects, Mitchner repeatedly said he and his colleagues simply don't have enough granular information to make those calls. The plan says it would cost $5 million to modernize the gym at Mountain View High, and he wondered whether that amount ought to be much lower or eliminated entirely.
"It's more expensive than I'd like to see, and I'd like to see some things get scaled back,"
Earlier this month, two voter surveys showed that the district would have a good shot at passing either a $198 million or a $268 million facilities bond at the ballot box next year. Board members said they want a project list with costs somewhere in the middle -- between $210 million and $225 million -- along with a wish list of less essential projects ready to go in case there's room in the budget.
Quattrocchi said his firm could come back to the board with a project list that fits the constraints, but warned that slicing off $50 million or $60 million from the budget can't be achieved through small tweaks and removing a modernization project here and there. It would likely force something large -- like a scale-back of the student services building -- in order to pull off. Board president Debbie Torok said she would be willing to pare back something like the student union room in the student services building if it balanced out the budget.
"Student union is nice, but it's not a win-win for me if we can't do it in a budget that's maintainable," Torok said.
Despite projections showing Los Altos High School's enrollment will grow by hundreds of students in only a few years, the master plan does not increase available parking at the school. Quattrocchi said the plan made great efforts to preserve existing parking spaces on the campus, but conceded that the firm was unable to find a good spot for additional parking because of the school's small footprint.
"It was imperative for us to keep parking," he said. "And doing a parking structure is such a cost-prohibitive thing."
District staff and the architect firm stressed that the master plan is a "living document" and a draft, and that nothing is set in stone at this juncture. Board members are expected to give final approve of the master plan next month.