After receiving heated criticism from residents last year over its plans to put up security fences around Monta Loma Elementary School, the Mountain View Whisman School District has now scheduled a slew of public meetings to get input on how to redesign the school's beloved community open space.
Carducci Associates, the district's architect, presented the public outreach plan to the school board last week.
The architecture firm intends to host a series of no fewer than 15 community meetings and focus groups over Zoom to gather feedback, with a final master plan expected to come back to the board for approval in May.
The first meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 15, and will cover the mostly nuts-and-bolts about the upcoming schedule and how to provide input. Carducci's Vince Lattanzio told the board last week that his goal is to ultimately create a plan for Monta Loma that will benefit all of the site's users.
"We're trying to make sure that we give as much access to the public and community as possible to participate, to give input and to understand how we're going forward," Lattanzio said.
Responding to concerns about the school's security, the district originally intended to erect fences around Monta Loma to stop unauthorized people from entering the campus during the school day. That prospect was met with fierce opposition from neighbors who use the land as a public park.
In June, the school board decided instead to pursue a broader campus reconfiguration and voted 4-1 in September to approve a $481,000 contract with Carducci to create a proposal for the site.
At last week's meeting, board member Devon Conley said that the campus is a "valuable and special shared community resource," noting that the neighborhood lacks any other large park space within walking distance.
Board member Laura Ramirez Berman, who said she lives in the Monta Loma area, agreed with Conley, saying that the neighborhood is in a unique situation because of its limited open space.
"I am really looking forward to seeing the engagement in these conversations and seeing this process play out," Ramirez Berman said.
Trustee Chris Chiang was the lone "no" vote on September's resolution to hire Carducci, saying at the time that he felt the city of Mountain View, not the school district, should be addressing the lack of park space in the neighborhood.
Again last Thursday, Chiang said that although Monta Loma deserves park space, he believes the city should ultimately pay for it. He questioned why the City Council doesn't have meetings scheduled to discuss the topic, given that the school board is planning to review plans for Monta Loma at least three more times in the coming months.
"I am mindful that it is very rare for any government body to want to pay for something that they're not actively meeting on," Chiang said. "As much as I believe that Monta Loma deserves a park, I believe this should be a city-funded project."
It isn't yet known how much of the final cost the city of Mountain View will cover.
Gathering public feedback
As part of its effort to notify residents about the public outreach process, Lattanzio said the district has mailed out postcards, put notifications in school newsletters, sent emails, used school marquee signs, updated the district's website and put up physical signs at the school.
Carducci staff members have also met at the campus with school employees and city staff, Lattanzio said.
In January, Carducci plans to host six focus group meetings, each with a different segment of the community: city staff, school staff, city recreation leagues, seniors, families with young children and neighbors.
Each focus group meeting will last roughly 90 minutes and include up to 10 people, Lattanzio said. To sign up to be part of a focus group, visit mvwsd.org/montalomafield. Members will be randomly chosen from the submitted applications.
After the focus group meetings, Carducci will host a pair of broader community input meetings the last week of January to recap the focus groups and gather feedback. One meeting will be hosted on a weekday evening and the other on a Saturday morning to accommodate different schedules.
The school board will then hear an update at its Feb. 10 meeting.
The following week, Carducci will present a set of master plan options for Monta Loma and gather input at a second pair of community meetings.
In March, Carducci will host a third pair of community meetings to present a preferred master plan and gather feedback. Carducci will then run a survey of the focus groups and come back to the board with an update on March 24.
A fourth pair of community meetings is scheduled for April to get input on a refined master plan proposal, ahead of a May 5 board meeting, where the trustees are expected to vote on the final plan.
Only one member of the public addressed the board, asking that larger signs be posted at Monta Loma and throughout the neighborhood to let people know about the upcoming meetings. Board members were receptive to the suggestion.
Conley said she was "really thrilled" with the process Carducci was presenting.
"Not only is there a separate meeting to discuss what the input process will be, there are eight additional community input meetings, six focus groups and four board meetings," Conley said. "We are going to have a smorgasbord of community input opportunities."
For more information on the public outreach process, including the link to Wednesday's meeting, visit mvwsd.org/montalomafield.