Schools 'maxed out,' says board president | May 8, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Schools - May 8, 2013

Schools 'maxed out,' says board president

• School board reviews options for expansion on O'Connor School site.

by Barbara Wood

The Menlo Park City School District's Board of Education met April 30 to learn more about options for the future use of its O'Connor School site in the Willows neighborhood, but ended the day with a sobering discussion of what to do in the meantime with more and more students entering the district each year and additional classroom space non-existent.

The board members also continued to not rule out letting the current tenants of O'Connor — the German-American International School (GAIS) — stay at the site, 275 Elliot Drive in Menlo Park, for an additional year.

The fall 2013 enrollment in the district's three elementary schools is expected to increase by 82 students. "We are completely maxed out at the schools," said board president Terry Thygesen after the meeting. "The campuses are completely and totally built up."

Until students can move to the O'Connor campus, which could happen at the earliest in August 2014, the district is considering short-term fixes including using the board's meeting room as a classroom, transforming multipurpose rooms into classrooms, and sending students in the transitional (two-year) kindergarten program to whatever district schools have the most room.

Board members also asked the district's principals, who were listening to the discussion, to try to come up with innovative ways to squeeze more kids into existing spaces. They promised, however, to provide enough teachers to keep the student/teacher ratios within district guidelines.

Those short-term fixes may well be in place as long as three years because among the options being considered by the board is either a major renovation of the existing O'Connor school or a new school on the site, to be ready for students in August 2016.

Another option the board is considering — squeezing the construction, planning and a bond measure into two years — did not get much support from board members, but would have allowed students to occupy the O'Connor site in August 2015.

On April 9, the board voted unanimously to terminate the German-American International School's lease of the O'Connor site in June 2014 because the district needs more room for its rapidly expanding student population.

The private school could be allowed to stay an additional school year if the board adopts one of the three-year options, Ms. Thygesen said, but might have to adjust its school year so construction could begin in May 2015.

Only one of the options the district is considering — a minor reworking of the existing O'Connor School as a kindergarten and first-grade only school — could be done without asking district voters to approve a bond measure to pay for construction or renovation.

That means the district will have to act fairly quickly even if the board decides to take three years to complete the project.

The board will meet again on May 13 to adopt a timeline and narrow down the options that will be considered. Ms. Thygesen said the board wants to hear which option the community prefers. The board is also asking for input on the configuration of the school, be it a kindergarten to fifth-grade school, a kindergarten and first-grade school, or a third- to fifth-grade school. The school could also be set up as a "school of choice," offering special programs such as Spanish immersion, gifted and talented classes, or arts or science and math programs designed to attract students from the entire district.

If the board chooses an option that requires passage of a bond measure, board members seemed to favor an election this November. That means, they said, that community members willing to head a campaign committee for the bond measure will need to be on board soon. The last date the board could approve putting a bond measure on the November ballot is Aug. 9.

Projected costs and construction duration (but not planning time) for the three options are:

• Minor renovations and additions of portables to the existing school for a K-1 only school, $3 million, five to six months.

• Major modernization and addition of new buildings to the existing school to allow K-5 or other configurations, $9 million, 10 to 12 months.

• New school, $22.2 million, 12-13 months.

Construction would start in the summer of 2014 at the earliest.

The district has $3 million that would pay for minor renovations, part of the proceeds from the last bond measure passed by district voters.

Go to to download the presentation given to the board by Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's director of facility planning and construction.


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