New home for German-American school?

Private school will lose Willows campus next year, but hopes to move to North Fair Oaks

The German-American International School has found a potential new home in the North Fair Oaks neighborhood, just a few miles from its current Menlo Park campus. Now school officials are working to build a good relationship with their likely new neighbors as they work with the county to obtain needed permits.

Now located on the former O'Connor School site in the Willows neighborhood, GAIS is being forced to leave that campus in May 2015 to make way for a new school to be constructed by the Menlo Park City School District, which owns the site. The district has leased the campus to GAIS since 1991, but is building a new school, to open in 2016, to accommodate burgeoning enrollment in its own schools.

GAIS, a bilingual international baccalaureate school with about 315 students, wants to relocate to five contiguous parcels totaling nearly 3 acres at 3515 Edison Way in unincorporated North Fair Oaks. The campus would be built in two phases, with the first phase completed by August 2015, in time for the launch of a new school year.

When it opens at that time, the school, which now enrolls children from preschool through eighth grade, will include a ninth-grade level, according to Dominic Liechti, the school's managing director. GAIS plans to add a new high school grade level each subsequent year until 2018, when a 12th-grade class is in place.

Project planner Olivia Boo of the San Mateo County Planning Department said a school is not a permitted use in the area's light-industrial zone, and that the school will be required to obtain a conditional use permit or apply to the county for a permitted-use designation. After a formal application is submitted, there will be community meetings in North Fair Oaks, and the plan will be reviewed by the county's Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Although no formal application has been submitted, Mr. Liechti submitted a letter to the county outlining GAIS's plans for the site. They include the renovation of the three existing buildings, which now are leased as office, manufacturing, research and commercial space. There will be 36 classrooms, a library, a multipurpose room and a teachers' lounge.

Plans also call for playing areas between the buildings. The two vacant parcels will be upgraded with a small track and soccer field, sports courts, landscaping, parking, and circulation areas.

The project's cost is estimated at $5 million.

Community relations

GAIS officials have been meeting with North Fair Oaks Council members and county Supervisor Warren Slocum, whose district the property lies in, since last spring "to discuss our plans and hear their feedback," Mr. Liechti said in the letter.

Earlier this month, the school met with residents in a county-mandated "pre-application workshop," and on Feb. 10, with members of the Fair Oaks Beautification Association (FOBA) as part of the school's effort to hear from residents.

"GAIS did an excellent job in reaching out to the community," resident Kyle Barriger told the Almanac. Mr. Barriger, who attended both recent meetings and is a member of FOBA, said residents' chief concerns centered on increased traffic and noise, and on who will have access to the play fields when school is not in session. Residents want to make sure there's not unlimited access to the fields, he said, and have been assured by school officials that they don't intend to open the fields to organized sports a statement echoed by Mr. Liechti in an interview with the Almanac.

Mr. Barriger said he can't speak for other FOBA members, but observed that GAIS appears willing to be a good neighbor. "I think that what I and most (residents) are looking for is a genuine partnership between the German-American School and the community," he said.

Mr. Liechti told the Almanac that the school will use a traffic management plan similar to the one now in place at its current campus in the Willows. It includes staggered schedules, a carpooling system used by 50 percent of parents, parent monitoring of motorists dropping off and picking up their kids, and other strategies. "We have a really good track record" in the Willows neighborhood, he said.

The school is conducting a traffic study in the Edison Way area to better address the issue. At this point, he said, it's unknown whether the school will generate more traffic than current tenants of the three buildings, which he numbered at 40. Mr. Liechti said he wants to form a traffic committee that includes neighbors of the new school.


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

3515 Edison is currently part of Edison Technology Park and houses numerous businesses in a mid-size commercial building with an adjoining vacant lot at the dead-end of Edison. That's going to be a heck of a lot of traffic for that street and the neighboring residential area - much like the streets around the current O'Connor site.

The only major street access to that section of Edison is Fifth Ave. The alternatives are cutting thru on the narrow residential streets of 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th and Fair Oaks avenues.

If the school is approved the residents on that last block of 11th Ave better pray that the county closes their street at Edison with a fence which prevents pedestrian access from Edison and install lots of No Parking signs in the area for student pickup hours.

In any case should be a nice safe area for the students as long as the adjoining businesses are not manufacturing anything requiring solvents and other toxics as technology as inclined to do.

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Posted by Knee-Jerk
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 19, 2014 at 10:52 am

Not to mention an expanding Synapse School on the same street. There are already issues with people using Fair Oaks ave and splintering streets of Marsh & Middlefield as cut-throughs during commute hours. Without sidewalks on many of those roads it is dangerous for pedestrians and bikers to navigate with cars speeding through as well as speeding around the round-abouts which are there to control speed. In addition, I hear there is a possible high school addition to these campuses...which means more drivers, and young ones...

I know advocates of GAIS are saying that they will come up with a traffic plan, but honestly, it's still 300+ kids being transported in that weren't there before, plus Businesses, plus Synapse students (would they stagger start and end times), plus U-Me, plus regular traffic.

Has anyone done a traffic study or neighborhood impact study? I'll admit I haven't been following this extremely closely, just some back and forth over our neighborhood NextDoor threads, so this is my knee-jerk reaction to the idea.

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Posted by Aidan
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:11 am

To Knee Jerk re [Has anyone done a traffic study or neighborhood impact study?] in the last paragraph of Renee's story it says the school is currently conducting a traffic study.

A school in that area would be such a boon to the community. With Synapse, UME, Riekes and Sports House nearby, the German American International School would be a fantastic "anchor" tenant for a great family and kid friendly district that has long been commercial/industrial. I do hope the neighbors' traffic concerns can be addressed. To the GAIS: Willkommen to North Fair Oaks!

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Posted by Knee-Jerk
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

Thanks Aiden! Ah yes, there it is! And I clearly missed the part about staggered schedules too. Good thing I gave the caveat of "knee-jerk" to highlight my ignorance to the depth of the topic.

However, I am still concerned about congestion and safety. I am wondering whatever happened to all of the dialogue about signage on Fair Oaks/Marsh about the neighborhood streets being restricted as a through-way during commute hours.

Also, his quote: "it's unknown whether the school will generate more traffic than current tenants of the three buildings"... how is it unknown that adding 300+ students wouldn't change anything...

I am happy to see them doing their due diligence, I commend them on their outreach and concern. As a stand alone tenant, I would be very inclined to be in favor, but there are other businesses and another school on the same street that have increased traffic already. Will it be too much? I think they could add great value, but I would like to know what Synapse's plans are. They are already "In" and I haven't seen any public information outreach from them about expansion impact like we have from GAIS.

Our neighborhood sometimes gets the shaft. Don't get me started on the SF Water Hetch Hetchy project. We were ABUSED!

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Posted by Knee-Jerk
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:49 am

I mean, Thanks, Aidan. ;-)

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Posted by Aidan
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm

To Knee- Jerk, You're welcome. :) I guess it was not completely clear in the story but I had a similar question as you when the community meeting was held a few weeks ago. The current 40 or so businesses in the 3 buildings of Edison Technology Park will no longer be there so if you subtract the traffic they generate (think employees, clients, suppliers, etc.) and add in the traffic of the school (students being transported, faculty, staff etc.)it might be a net traffic improvement. Obviously the school knows the traffic it currently generates at its current site in the Willows. I imagine the study will evaluate the office park traffic, among other things.

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Posted by Knee-Jerk
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 19, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Thanks Aiden! Got it! It was a little vague. I am growing more fond of the project. The idea of having one controlled group as opposed to a spattering of come-and-go businesses is definitely a positive!

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Posted by Impressed reader
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm

@ Knee Jerk - I am impressed by your willingness to be open-minded. If only everyone was as willing to listen, our Country would be in a better place.

Thanks for restoring my faith in dialog.

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Posted by Menlo Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

GAIS has given up on moving to the Edison property and let their lease option expire. I hope they can find a long term home with the Ravenswood SD

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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