Calling it necessary to accommodate a swelling enrollment on already-packed campuses, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board members are expected to vote this week on a $295 million bond measure. The measure would require 55 percent of the vote to pass and would be placed on the June 5 ballot.
If approved, the bond would help pay for massive construction plans spelled out in the district's Facilities Master Plan, which trustees approved last week on a unanimous vote. The plan includes more than $100 million in upgrades to both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, a completely new campus for the arts and digital media-focused Freestyle Academy, and sets aside close to $30 million to prepare for rapid housing growth in Mountain View.
The bond represents the district's largest undertaking in several decades to build new classrooms, renovate aging facilities and plan for the future. The bond amount is significantly larger than Measure A ($41.3 million) in 2010 and Measure D ($58 million) in 1995. The dollar amount and language of the proposed bond measure is still subject to change prior to the Feb. 5 board meeting, but is not expected to exceed $30 per $100,000 of assessed value for district property owners, according to district officials.
The focus of the bond is to house an influx of students caused by near-term housing projects throughout Mountain View, which is expected to add 500 students between the 2016-17 and 2020-21 school years. Both schools are slated to get new two-story classroom buildings.
With limited space on both campuses, district officials have little choice but to build up -- most of the proposed projects will be two stories, including classroom wings, administrative offices and food services.
At the Jan. 22 school board meeting, board member Phil Faillace said the master plan should represent the final build-out of both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, and cautioned against building anything more densely packed. Doing so would risk alienation among teachers and students at sprawling schools, and could cause a "substantial" drop in the quality of education, he said.
"Anybody who wishes for a school bigger than these two are projected to be should be very careful for what they wish for," he said. "People will feel more like they're bricks in a wall instead of part of an individual, caring environment."
The comments come after a long debate over equity between the two high schools, and parent concerns that Los Altos High School may not be getting a fair amount of classroom space. The master plan envisions 103 total classroom at the school, which is slightly below the 106 classrooms that Mountain View High would have. That not only represents an inequity, but also a potential missed opportunity for more educational space that could be built with the bond money, one parent said.
During a special study session last month, parents argued that an earlier version of the plan was a raw deal for Los Altos High in terms of music space, giving Mountain View High School's already-superior performance hall an upgrade while Los Altos struggles to find space to store larger instruments and to host choral and instrumental music practice at the same time.
The final master plan was adjusted to include close to $1 million for a new addition to the music building at Los Altos High School, which would allow for more ensemble rooms and storage. Superintendent Jeff Harding commended parents at the Jan. 22 meeting for getting involved and prompting the district to add 900 square feet of extra space for the music program, and said the last-minute change helps both campuses achieve parity.
"They pointed out the discrepancy (and) the lack of parity between the sites, and the need for additional ensemble space and storage," He said. "There has been quite a bit of parent involvement."
The new proposed campus for Freestyle Academy, which is currently housed in older portables behind the district office, includes a two-story building with larger classrooms, recording studios and photo labs for the alternative program, which combines digital media, art and music for students who choose to participate.
The plan is to house Freestyle Academic north of the Alta Vista continuation high school on a plot of vacant land owned by the city of Mountain View, but the district is still in the midst of negotiations with the city for a possible lease deal.
$30M set aside for uncertainty
Although the bond money lays out a strong vision for housing more students over the next five years, it's unclear what the future holds for enrollment in Mountain View's public schools. New zoning plans by the city are expected to bring nearly 10,000 new homes to the North Bayshore area, and thousands more are expected in the East Whisman region of the city. At the same time, NASA Ames announced plans last year to build 1,930 homes on Moffett Field, which falls within the district's boundaries.
As a cautionary measure to handle the potential for dramatic -- albeit longer term -- housing growth, the master plan sets aside about 10 percent of the total bond money, $30 million, for classrooms to handle future enrollment increases.
Harding told the Voice earlier this month that the money could finance about 20 classrooms, which could help accommodate students from new Mountain View housing. He said the effects of the growth aren't fully known yet, and it's possible that the money won't be needed.
"We're planning long term," he said. "This is a funding stream that, in the event we need to build more classrooms, we can build them."
The city's North Bayshore Precise Plan requires housing developers to create a special compensation package to help the high school district house increasing enrollment, which could total more than 1,000 students according to some estimates. But the district has yet to negotiate any specific plan with Google and Sobrato -- the two major property owners in the region -- for buying land for a new campus or financing construction. There is also no guarantee a similar mitigation requirement will be in included the East Whisman Precise Plan, Harding said.
"We need to be prepared in case the wave of students grows larger," he said.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Mitchner called the $30 million a "buffer" to deal with the district's needs for more classroom space, with discretion to spend the money "on needs as we see them." Faillace described the money as an important resource, given the "limited knowledge" of what the future holds, and that it may not end up costing taxpayers a dime. The board may choose not to issue the remaining $30 million in bonds if the funds are not needed.
"There's no guarantee we're going to spend it, and if we don't spend it, then it's never going to cost you anything," Faillace said. "On the other hand, if we need it, it's very important that we have (the money), otherwise the quality of the education we offer will go downhill."