Schools - November 2, 2011

Las Lomitas district to use 'open bidding' for site where Woodland School operates

by Barbara Wood

A timetable for negotiating a new lease for the old Ladera School site, occupied for the past 30 years by Woodland School, was presented to the Ladera neighbors by the Las Lomitas Elementary School District at a community meeting on October 24.

The district has decided to use an open bidding process rather than a request for proposals (RFP), which might have given it more flexibility in choosing a tenant for the school site. The bid process requires, with few exceptions, that the highest bid be accepted.

Las Lomitas superintendent Eric Hartwig said the bid process was chosen "because it's simple, open, understood by all, allows us to provide protections of community interests, and most likely yields the best result for the district."

The district proposes to put restrictions on the school site that have been requested by its Ladera neighbors. The restrictions will be in a bidding prospectus, sent to all interested bidders. Tom Shannon, the consultant working with the district on the lease, said the prospectus will contain all the information that potential bidders need to make a bid in compliance with terms acceptable to the board.

The timetable, if adopted by the Las Lomitas board at its Nov. 9 meeting, would have the district signing a lease with a tenant by July 2012.

The school site was purchased by the district in 1952 but has not been used as a district school since Ladera School closed in 1979. The district's enrollment has been growing, but a study found that the Ladera neighborhood does not have enough students to reopen its own school.

John Ora, head of school at Woodland, said if the school board adopts the proposed timetable, Woodland will have to decide if the school has enough time to try to stay in Ladera, or if they will have to continue to look for a new site. The Woodland lease originally expired in July, but the district has extended it twice, through July 2013.

Mr. Ora said that the district has presented timetables for the lease process several times, but keeps revising them. The July 2012 date is "pushing" what would allow Woodland, a preschool through eighth-grade independent day school, to try to stay. The school's board and supporters have pledged to spend over $8 million on renovation and upgrade of the aging campus if they get a new lease.

Woodland, which now has 275 students, currently pays $650,000 a year to lease the site.

The school operates under a conditional use permit from San Mateo County because Ladera is an unincorporated neighborhood and the site is zoned for residential use. Right now, the use permit, which will be the subject of a hearing by the county on Nov. 13, limits the number of students at the school to 325.

Ladera residents at the meeting said they want the number of students to be capped by the district in the lease, and not subject to negotiation with the county. The issue is important to neighbors because they have steep, winding streets and limited parking in their hilly neighborhood.

District real estate consultant Tom Shannon said that the district's board could put that limit in the lease. "If they (the district board) want the lease to say the use permit allows 325 (students), they can do it," he said.

A district advisory committee, formed in April 2010 to advise the district on the school site, and chaired by Ladera residents Karen Fryling and Lennie Roberts, has asked the district to include a number of restrictions on anyone who leases the school site.

They have asked that the site be used only for a preschool to eighth-grade school, that its fields and facilities be available for use by the community in non-school hours, that local residents be allowed access to and through the campus when it is not in use, that restrictions be placed on parking and traffic, and that the sidewalk leading to the school be improved.


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