News

New Menlo Park high school opens, but construction is ongoing

'Complexity' of project design, lack of workers impacted construction timeline of TIDE Academy, contractor says

Construction of the new TIDE Academy high school in Menlo Park on Aug. 14. The school won't be completed until September or October due to project setbacks. Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac

TIDE Academy, a new high school in Menlo Park, opened for the first day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 14, but construction is ongoing because of project setbacks, according to school and construction officials. 

Sequoia Union High School District representatives told The Almanac in February that workers would finish construction on the new magnet school by the end of May.

But the "complexity" of the school's 45,000-square-foot, three-story building, difficulty finding construction workers and a busy construction market delayed the completion, said Daniel Park, project manager at Arntz Builders, the district's contractor for the project. Park anticipates the school will be completed at the end of September or early October, he said.

"Although we anticipated the facility being completed in time for the first day of school, there have been construction delays that are out of the district's control," said district spokesperson Ana Maria Pulido in an email. "We look forward to the completion of the final phase of construction in the coming weeks. The first day at TIDE was a success, and we look forward to carrying out the vision of creating an innovative educational environment that supports student engagement and achievement."

The Almanac was able to get some shots of the campus from the sidewalk at the front of the school, but was not allowed on campus during the first day of classes.

On the morning of the first day of school at TIDE, which is located on a 2-acre site at 150 Jefferson Drive, construction workers could be seen digging around pipes in a dirt trench at the front of the school, while others worked on ladders in rooms on the second floor. (Crews are completing carpentry work on the second floor, Park said.)

There were construction materials on the third floor and fencing blocked access to a balcony. Construction workers directed traffic into the school parking lot, which winds around the back of the property, for parents to drop students off for school. Wires hung from a TIDE Academy sign on exterior walls.

The school is holding classes on the first floor of the building, Park said. Work is almost complete on the third floor dining deck, he said.

Instructional classrooms and the school's makerspace were completed and ready for incoming students, Pulido said. She added that landscaping and a retaining wall on Jefferson Drive will be finished in four weeks.

In May, the district's school board approved reallocating $226,829 in contingency funds for the project because staff anticipated further change orders due to setbacks such as "design issues" and "acceleration overtime cost," according to a staff report. This did not increase the overall budget in place, but the decision reallocated soft costs -- such as fees and utilities improvements -- to hard construction costs, according to the report.

"We have put in a lot of extra effort to have the school open (on time)," Park said. "We did weekend work and overtime to get this project to work and be safely opened."

The school's design is "architecturally specific" -- different from the light-industrial buildings around TIDE -- which has made the project more difficult, Park said. TIDE is being constructed in a way to maximize exposure to daylight, and its L-shape configuration will enable direct access to an adjacent outdoor learning area from every interior space, according to project architect LPA.

With many construction projects happening in the Bay Area and a regional shortage of construction workers, it was difficult to complete the project on time, Park said. The number of workers was also limited on this project since it's a small site and it can be unsafe to have many people "working on top of each other," he said.

"It's really hard to find qualified, skilled craftsmen to complete the work," Park said. "You build it as you can. If problems come up, you have to solve those problems."

In 2017, Chief Facilities Officer Matthew Zito told the district's school board that an overheated construction market, along with several other challenges, would push back the school's opening from August 2018 until August 2019. He added that trade crews are understaffed, and that general contractors, after a regional dry spell, signed on for more work than they can handle.

About the school

The new school is beginning with a freshman class of 106, chosen by lottery, according to Pulido. It will eventually grow to 400 students once grades nine through 12 are in place.

The school's name is an acronym for technology, innovation, design and engineering -- a nod to its mission of preparing students for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) careers. The name also derives from the school's proximity to the Bay.

TIDE's curriculum includes classes in engineering, computer science, and design, with a focus on project-based learning, according to the school's website.

The school is located blocks away from Facebook and other high-tech corporations, most involved in health sciences. The proximity of these companies could help students develop mentorships that extend into college, school officials have said.

About 60% of students are taking the bus to campus, Pulido said. Eight students biked to school on the first day. Bike racks will be installed in two weeks, and in the meantime, bikes are being secured at the front gate, she said.

The district proposed the magnet school as part of a $265 million bond measure in June 2014, and broke ground in May 2017. The district awarded the construction bid for the project to Arntz Builders for about $36 million in 2017.

The school has recently undergone some staffing changes. In June, Allison Silvestri took over as principal, replacing Shamar Edwards, who had been principal since July 2018. Edwards, who also served as the district's executive director of small-school innovation and alternative programs, confirmed in a July 31 email that she is no longer working for the school or the district. 

Pulido said that Edwards resigned from the district, but the plan was always to hire someone else as principal once the school launched. Vice Principal Mike Kuliga, who served as the school's first principal beginning in July 2017, is also no longer listed on the school's website as an employee. Kuliga is now listed as a teacher at Redwood High School in Redwood City, an alternative school within the district. Founding teachers also recently left the school.

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Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Walter Paulsen
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Aug 16, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Walter Paulsen is a registered user.

It's a beautiful school and kudos for the Sequoia district for investing in STEM education. With the proximity to Facebook there will be many great opportunities for the students to get internships and work on projects with FB and other tech companies.


2 people like this
Posted by Bigmon78
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Aug 16, 2019 at 1:34 pm

Bigmon78 is a registered user.

Wow, $800 per square foot to build, not counting land or financing costs!? Even here in the Bay Area that is unreasonable. I hope it includes all the furniture and fixtures. You could build two nice schools for the kids for that budget without going for high minded architectural statements.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 16, 2019 at 2:03 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Bigmon:

$800/sf is actually not out of line for a school. The state has very strict construction standards for schools which drives up the cost. Not to mention that this is public works project. That means labor has to be paid "prevailing wage". That is whatever the local unions are making. Labor costs here are extremely high.


1 person likes this
Posted by carlune
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2019 at 9:34 am

Why the redundancy with Design Tech High School? It's right up the road next to Oracle. Plenty of kids from Menlo Park already attend dtech. I don't understand why the district has to embark on such an expensive proposition when it's already being done. Seems to me this is taking money from existing schools that need it more.


Like this comment
Posted by some guy from atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 17, 2019 at 7:43 pm

This article seems to imply that the school cost 36 million to build, while a Mercury News article from 2017 says 51 million. Does anybody know where this discrepancy came from?

Regardless, this seems like a huge amount of money for a 400 student school.

Mercury News - Tech-engineering high school being built in Menlo Park:

Web Link


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