The Mountain View Whisman School District approved a $481,000 contract with an outside firm last week to design an overhaul of the outdoor space at Monta Loma Elementary, after an initial plan to erect fences around the campus was met with widespread outcry last year.
The board of trustees voted 4-1 at a Sept. 9 meeting to hire the architectural design firm Carducci Associates to come up with a proposal to redesign Monta Loma's fields, walking paths, blacktop, playgrounds and other outdoor areas.
The district originally wanted to fence off the school in an effort to increase security and stop members of the public from coming onto campus while classes are in session, but reversed course last year after backlash from the community. The campus represents some of the only open space in the neighborhood and is used frequently by the public.
In June of this year, the board decided to instead move forward with a broader campus reconfiguration in an attempt to satisfy the needs of the school, city and residents.
The project still has a lot of unknowns, including what changes will actually be made, how long design and construction will take, and how much everything is going to cost. It's also unclear how much of the tab the city of Mountain View is willing to pick up.
The public was notably quiet at last week's board meeting, compared to the large numbers of people who previously turned out to oppose the fencing plan. No community members addressed the board last week, although one person raised their hand over Zoom to speak after the board had closed public comment.
Board member Ellen Wheeler said she viewed lack of commenters to be a positive sign, indicating that people were happy with the direction the district is moving in.
"My take is that a lot of the Monta Loma community is publicly silent about this right now because they are supportive of us continuing with this process," Wheeler said.
Board member Chris Chiang, on the other hand, read the silence as evidence of continued dissent.
"I don't believe that the silence is a sign of support," said Chiang, the sole board member to oppose hiring Carducci. "I believe the silence is a sign of concern and resignation."
With the board's approval last week, Carducci will now schedule meetings to get input on how the space should be modified. According to Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph, the goal is to create a vision for the campus that meets everyone's needs.
"This is an exciting time for us," Rudolph said. "It's taken us a while to get to this point, but (I'm) really glad that we can move to what is the next phase of Monta Loma's open space reconfiguration."
The final cost of the project isn't currently known, Rudolph said, because it will depend on factors such as how the fields are reconfigured, the extent of blacktop removal and whether playground structures are moved. Plans to install a solar array and lighting on campus are also delayed until the project design is finalized, Rudolph said.
In June, school officials said they were earmarking anywhere from $8 million to $9 million to pay for the overall campus redesign.
Whether and how much the city might contribute to the project is also still unknown. The city and school are working to create a new joint use agreement for the site, which will lay out who pays for what, Rudolph said.
Chiang opposed moving forward with the project, saying that he doesn't believe the school district should be paying for a project that is largely a benefit to the city, which currently lacks park space in the neighborhood.
"For the school district, I feel like this is a solution chasing a problem. Whereas for the city, I believe it's a real problem," Chiang said. "It's not a school problem, yet we're using school funds to pay for this."
He instead supported considering "non-facilities" solutions, such as hiring a security guard to patrol the campus.
Chiang was also the sole "no" vote in June when the board originally approved spending $382,200 to $702,000 to hire an architect to design the project. Last week, Board President Devon Conley told Chiang that since the board already voted to spend the money, they should now follow through and approve Carducci's contract. Chiang responded that if the board hires Carducci, he would support paying them, but doesn't want to hire them in the first place.
Conley also objected to the idea that the Monta Loma improvements only benefit the city, saying that although the district hadn't originally intended to reconfigure the fields, the majority of the project cost will go to items Mountain View Whisman already intended to spend money on, such as replacing the blacktop, updating playgrounds, adding outdoor learning spaces, installing solar arrays and finishing the school's lighting project.
"It would be foolish to spend money on them and then reconfigure the field," Conley said. "That would cost us a lot more money in the long run."