Los Altos School District's new Mountain View school won't open until 2025. It's the latest in a series of delays caused by lengthy real estate negotiations and ever-evolving plans to build a 10th school site in the center of one of the city's fastest growing neighborhoods.
If the school is built in 2025 -- and that's contingent on a number of things going right -- it would open its doors 11 years after voters approved Measure N, a $150 million bond advertised as a way to finance new school construction. Putting that into context, children born the year Measure N passed may be too old to attend a new elementary school built with bond funds.
The district recently purchased 11.6 acres of land at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive in the San Antonio shopping center area of Mountain View, currently home to commercial tenants, with plans to raze the buildings and build a school on the site. Shortly after district officials announced the bid to buy the land from real estate giant Federal Realty in 2018, the hope was that the school could be built by fall 2021.
But the latest update, presented at the Jan. 13 Los Altos school board meeting, says designing the school and getting approval by state regulators could take until the end of 2022, as will the district's complicated financing scheme for buying the land and building the school. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2023 and last through 2024, with the outdoor play space available to the public by summer 2024.
School board members and the district's top staff have long argued that delays in spending Measure N funds -- now spanning more than a decade -- are a testament to just how challenging it was to find a suitable site for a school in a rapidly changing and expensive real estate market. The goal of putting a school within or close to the San Antonio neighborhood of Mountain View, where enrollment is expected to surge in the coming years, only added to the difficulty.
Board president Bryan Johnson told the Voice that finding a suitable property for a new school has been more complicated and taken longer than anyone anticipated, and that only in the last three years did the site search and negotiations with property owners really begin in earnest. The district's committee in charge of finding viable real estate for the school considered nearly every large property north of El Camino Real, including the Target on Showers Drive and the shopping center on the west side of San Antonio Road, currently home to a CVS Pharmacy and Sprouts market.
The district eventually settled on buying land at the northeast corner of the San Antonio shopping center, which includes the JoAnn fabrics store, Kohl's, 24 Hour Fitness and several other smaller tenants. The businesses have leases that will allow them to stay until December 2022, at which point the buildings will be shuttered for demolition. Assuming none of the tenants leave early, the district will receive about $2.5 million each year in rental income.
Despite the delays, Johnson said he believes the district made the right decision in seeking to build a 10th school site in the San Antonio neighborhood, which is the center of rapid infill development and housing growth. The area of the city is currently split between three schools that are all south of El Camino Real.
"I think the 10th site and the park are going to be the jewel of the neighborhood," Johnson said.
Despite what appears to be a sluggish timeline, the Los Altos School District has a daunting schedule for the first half of 2020. Between January and June, trustees are expected to decide what kind of school should go on the Mountain View site, which could be a brand new elementary school, a relocated existing school or a charter school with an enrollment preference for students living in the San Antonio area.
Linked to that major decision is where to put Bullis Charter School, which has grown beyond 1,000 students and is currently housed in portable classrooms across two school sites, Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools. A pitch to move Egan Junior High to Mountain View and cede the school's old facilities to Bullis was met with fiery opposition in April last year, but the board has yet to formally retract the idea or propose an alternative.
A less pressing decision, but one that will affect how the future Mountain View school will be designed, is whether the school district should switch to a middle school model, shifting sixth grade students from elementary schools to Egan and Blach. State data shows there are only 50 public junior high schools in the state, compared with nearly 1,300 middle schools, making Los Altos a rare exception in the Bay Area. Conversion to the middle-school model has been discussed for years, with an eye toward purported academic benefits for sixth grade students, but it would also have far-reaching effects on enrollment across the district's nine schools.
All of these decisions are "intertwined" and have to be decided in the coming months if the school district sticks with the proposed 2025 timeline, Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon told the board at its meeting Monday. In particular, it assumes that the board makes a final decision on what kind of school should be built at the Mountain View site before the end of 2020, which kicks off the design and lengthy state approval processes, which will extend through 2022.
The hope is that, in the coming months, the school board will winnow down the options on who will attend the new school and come up with a final decision in June.