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Windmill School signs contract to buy former nursery site

A preschool appears to once again be in the future of the 1.68 acres at 900 Portola Road. The Windmill School, a private nonprofit preschool with a 50-year presence in rented locations in Portola Valley, announced on March 20 that it is a party to a contract to buy the former plant nursery.

"After more than a decade of efforts across numerous alumni and volunteers, I am delighted to announce that Windmill is under contract to secure a long-term home for this vital community asset," Windmill board President Liz Poggi said in a statement. " ... Windmill is one of the community's oldest institutions and has played a key role in building the strong foundations, friendships and spirit of volunteerism that (have) made Portola Valley and its surrounding community such a wonderful place to raise a family."

Plans include enrichment courses for children in preschool and elementary school in the arts, language, reading and science, as well as a barn with live animals and a wooded amphitheater, the statement says.

The site, located between Our Lady of the Wayside Church and the Village Square shopping center, was at the center of a controversy in 2012 when the Town Council was in a contract and came close to buying it as a potential location for small homes affordable to people of moderate incomes.

On again, off again

This is the third bite at this apple for Windmill. According to accounts by the property's owners, the school was days away from a purchase in March 2011 when it learned of the need for a zoning change, an unwelcome surprise to school officials and donors. The school asked for and got a six-month extension, but in September 2011 came news of soil contamination, and the deal fell apart.

The town has twice made bids: a verbal offer in 2009 that was rejected by owners John and Karin Wu; and an offer in 2012 to the new owners, Geoff and Colleen Tate, well after Windmill's deal fell through.

Town officials have said -- and the Tates have confirmed -- that the town did not actively pursue a contract until Windmill had taken itself out of the running.

The town's contract stipulated that San Mateo County environmental authorities must attest to the proper clean-up of the site's pesticide residues. The council allowed the contract to expire after county officials declared the clean-up inadequate and gave indications that a clean-up would likely be several months away.

Windmill did not respond to questions about the current state of soil contamination in time to meet the Almanac's publication deadline.

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