Public ponders Cubberley options at forum

As city and school district ponder lease renewal, users described 'lives entwined' with center

More than 100 people turned out Thursday night, Nov. 8, for a public forum on the future of Cubberley Community Center.

While a few questioned why Palo Alto needs multiple "community centers" – Lucie Stern, Mitchell Park, Ventura and Cubberley – most described Cubberley as an irreplaceable and valued public asset.

"Our lives have become more entwined with activities and programs at Cubberley," said Palo Alto resident Karen Chin, whose children, ages 3 and 5, are participating in preschool, dance classes and a Mandarin after-school program at the center.

"I see Cubberley as a place where my family can go to get that diversity of experience that will allow them to grow into the kind of adults I'd like them to become."

Another attendee, Carolyn Caywood, said the Children's Preschool Center at Cubberley is one of the few in the area that offers care for babies under six months old.

"Child care in this city is very impacted, particularly for very young children, because so many of us commute here from other areas," said Caywood, who works at Stanford Hospital and Clinics.

"Many families can't afford for both parents not to be working, so finding a quality place for a young child that's close to where you work and can handle long hours is very, very difficult."

Since Cubberley closed as a high school in 1979, the city has leased the campus from the school district for use as a community center, facilitating a $7.3 million-a-year revenue stream for schools and low-cost rents for nonprofit tenants who offer programs in the arts, sports, education and health care.

The current least expires in 2014 and city and school officials are negotiating a plan for the future, with help from a 28-member "community advisory committee" that has been meeting intensively since June.

Planners are looking at short- medium- and long-term options that eventually could involve shared use of the property should the school district need to reclaim the site to accommodate projected enrollment growth after 2020.

In the short term – the next five years or so – city and school officials have indicated they hope to renew the lease and let the community programs continue to operate, though possibly with higher rents.

But Cubberley's anchor tenant, Foothill College – which provides $930,000 of the city's total annual lease revenue of $2.54 – has said it intends to open its new satellite campus at the former Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale in the fall of 2015.

Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the City Council has a policy of offering subsidized rents to nonprofits at Cubberley, but that policy is likely to be re-examined.

"I expect the rent schedule will be looked at to offset some of the liabilities," he said. "How much and what is another question."

Joe Hirsch of the non-profit tenant Cardiac Therapy Foundation of the Mid-Peninsula said his group, which has helped thousands of cardiac patients in its 40-year history, would go out of business if it had to pay market-rate rents.

"In this community, we cannot afford for-profit rates," Hirsch said. "If we have to move, we'd have to raise our rates by one third and either become a program for the elite and wealthy or spiral downward and go out of business.

"We need a community center like this, and we assume that other tenants do too."

Advisory committee member and former Palo Alto mayor Lanie Wheeler said the committee has looked across the country for successful examples of shared facilities use between cities and school districts.

"We'll have some of that research available in our report and we're still gathering information as we find it," said Wheeler, inviting others to suggest examples that she would follow up on.

Palo Alto School Superintendent Kevin Skelly said it will be "quite a while" before the district reaches the 4,600-student capacity of the two existing high schools.

"We don't see a high school (at Cubberley) in the short term, but it's a possibility for the long term," Skelly said.

Locating a more urgently needed fourth middle school at Cubberley is not optimal because it would require substantial school boundary changes that would be unpopular, Skelly said.

"We'd rather find another place that would work better for boundaries and we're looking right now," he said.

As for a 13th elementary school – also needed in the near term – Skelly said the district is considering either Greendell School, which is adjacent, but not part of, Cubberley, or Garland School at 870 N. California Ave.


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Posted by disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2012 at 10:54 am

A meeting like this easily draws people who don't want to be moved out of Cubberley, but those who are most impacted by Gunn and Paly housing 2,300-2,500 students each don't really understand the impacts yet and wouldn't be represented. Millions of our money are being spent now to make Gunn and Paly take larger enrollments rather than on more improvements for a smaller enrollment; not using the costs of that extra capacity to rebuild Cubberley instead is a travesty. (And please spare me any specious arguments about what that would cost -- we just built that huge new library and community center for $45million, and if you look at state studies about the cost of new school construction, especially in this economy, we could have had a completely new, state of the art campus out of our current bond measure if it had been better managed.)

The district should have either partnered with Foothill to let them build a new campus on that 8 acres, or they should have moved to rebuild Cubberley as part of Measure A plans, which Measure A was clearly drafted to allow. If we'd had such leadership, the new campus would be nearly ready now - and could have allowed us to temporarily, alternately move Paly and Gunn students to better redo those campuses with less disruption to the students -- and there's no reason a new building couldn't have included space for tenants and shared use if the district felt it needed to continue being landlords to raise revenue.

Our leadership's reason for not even considering rebuilding Cubberly earlier was a desire not to argue over boundary lines for Paly and Gunn -- which could have been completely circumvented by an old proposal to make a reopened Cubberley a choice program, allowing the district complete control over enrollments at all three schools (since choice programs are always oversubscribed in this district). I think the leadership and planning have been terrible -- and the new construction is ugly, to boot!

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Posted by disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2012 at 11:00 am

You know something, this brings up another issue. We are so concerned about affordable housing, why aren't we concerned as a city about affordable public and commercial space for businesses and non-profits with distinct benefits to the community? Why should the school district be making decisions with the weight of that on its shoulders?

Our city should look at developing a policy for encouraging such public spaces, not just affordable housing. We'd all be a lot better off, (and this whole business would be a lot less complicated.)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I think it should be pointed out to the parents of preschoolers and babies, as quoted in the article, that it is exactly their children we are thinking about when we talk about high school overcrowding. By the time these preschoolers and babies are in high school, they will be the ones who will suffer or not depending on the sizes of Gunn and Paly at that time. Our kids will be long gone, theirs will be reaping the rewards of discussion now.

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Posted by disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Not just preschoolers, kids in elementary school and even middle school now will be affected by the poor planning decisions made in the last few years and now.

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Posted by chini
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Paly and Gunn should be expanded to accommodate more students rather than opening a new high school. That would keep the diversity of student communities in those high schools, cost less money, avoid wasteful investigations, etc. We need to invest and build upon what we already have instead of looking for new ways, unless there is a clear logistical limitation. Whatever the logistical limitation that prevents the expansion of existing high schools has not yet been put forth in a satisfactory manner.

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Posted by disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2012 at 4:58 pm

You are making comments and clearly know very little about what is going on. (Why do people feel the need to make forceful comments about the direction we should be taking without the barest understanding of what is going on?)

The current bond measure IS BEING SPENT AS WE SPEAK TO MAKE GUNN AND PALY TAKE EXPANDED ENROLLMENTS. That involves tens of millions of dollars spent on the needs of expanded enrollments that could have been spent simply rebuilding Cubberley.

What is your evidence that keeping Gunn at 1800 students or even reducing it to a more optimal 1500 students would cost more money or reduce diversity? From what I've read, the evidence is that beyond a certain point, economies of scale in education actually disappear and you get costly problems over about 2,000 students. So, per student, you may actually be spending MORE and getting a lesser outcome.

Are you aware that many of the goals we have, such as reducing the achievement gap, actually get MUCH harder in schools over 2,000 students? Are you aware that in order to expand our high schools to take these large enrollments, the district is putting in numerous multi-story structures, which are far most costly PER SQUARE FOOT of space than single-story, and an expenditure only necessary because of the student body expansions?

You would be right about one thing if you had said: the reason for failing to including Cubberley in the planning has not been "put forth in a satisfactory manner", because the decisions were not made in a satisfactory manner.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Disgusted: the ship has sailed on the current construction - time to move on. It's time to look forward and do what is best for our community. And I agree that we have to look at Cubberly as the next location for expanding academic capacity.

Non-profits are fine, but they are not necessarily serving Palo Alto residents. The city is subsidizing (with our tax dollars) some non-profits who are serving non-residents.

The greater good of our city, our tax paying residents and our collective future is with the education of our current and future students. The property is owned by PAUSD and they should prioritize their decisions towards our students first.

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Posted by disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm

You're right, the ship has sailed -- mostly. There are still millions in port that could be looked at again. It wouldn't be the first time in this project, and it's not too late. (It is too late for optimal, but not too late for improvement for which there is much room.)

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Posted by Gunn Alum
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Coming back to Palo Alto every few months from college, I encounter new housing developments each time. Though Palo Alto will never again be the small community I grew up in, I still hope we can curb the housing projects to prevent complete overcrowding. RE development is clearly a lucrative market, but we should think to the future about what kind of town we actually want.

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

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