A new two-story building, outdoor-learning environments, a maker's space, a multipurpose room that can actually fit the entire school these are some of the items on Addison Elementary School's capital-improvements wish list, which could soon become a reality with potential funding from an anonymous donor.
A third-party representative for the donor approached the school district in May to communicate the donor's interest in making a "substantial" contribution toward facilities at Addison, said Bond Program Manager Bob Golton. Addison, which was founded in 1925, houses the oldest elementary-school classrooms in the entire district.
The donor subsequently funded a $25,000 planning grant for the district to engage its architect, the Addison site council and broader school community to identify what site improvements were most critical for the school and create a conceptual design.
Addison Principal Amanda Boyce created a site-planning committee made up of teachers and parent site-council members that, with Golton and the architect's support, kicked off a community-feedback process this fall, Boyce said.
The school started by surveying all of its second- through fifth-graders about what helps them learn best, what are the learning spaces on campus that they prefer and which spaces need improvement, Boyce said. She then engaged with her staff to discuss how the physical site furthers, or hinders, the school's philosophy and mission, which is to "(support) students' learning and growth through clear and open communication, collaboration, taking risks, and building on the assets of one another with open minds."
Then in September, Addison hosted a schoolwide "design-thinking night," spearheaded by Boyce and a parent who works at the Stanford University Institute of Design, or d.school, to "engage the greater community to see, again, what could kids come up with that would help us build our dream school," Boyce said.
At this design night, parents interviewed their children about their experiences at school, identified facilities challenges for example, crowded tables at lunchtime and then designed prototypes that could solve the issues.
Boyce said taking better advantage of both indoor and outdoor spaces on Addison's campus emerged as a priority that night, as well as increased collaboration across campus, a larger multipurpose room (the current building can't accommodate all of Addison's 471 students, Boyce said) and a redesigned library. With obvious momentum around design thinking and innovation in education, building a maker's space is also "top on our list," she said.
The district architect, Lisa Gelfand of Gelfand Partners Architects in San Francisco, met with the planning committee several times throughout October to work through a conceptual design. A final version was presented at a joint staff-site council meeting on Nov. 12. and received "positive feedback," Boyce said. It was presented to the donor's representative the following week, which also drew a positive response, she said.
The conceptual design includes building a new two-story building that would house the administration on the bottom floor and a new library on the second floor. This building would also become the school's entrance, Boyce said, and be more visible along Webster Street.
Moving the library and administrative building from its current location as one wing surrounded by all classrooms would free up space to create what Boyce called an "academic learning quad" that "could be the center and the heart of the school." A small structure could be built close by to house the maker's space, she added.
This would also allow the school to get rid of four portables currently housing the entire fifth-grade class, Boyce said, with fourth- and fifth-graders moving into the new classroom space.
"It was a very big goal to get rid of the portables because they were just added as a necessity over the years," with growing demographics, Boyce said.
Taking out the portables would also free up more outdoor space, solving overcrowding on the school's field, Boyce added. The school has made piecemeal adjustments to address this, like staggering the primary and upper grades' eating and playing times so the entire school isn't out on the field at the same time, but Boyce said students need "more space to run and play." One idea is to build a multi-level "exploration" garden with tunnels and bridges.
"We are looking at every aspect of the campus," Boyce said. "We're redesigning in terms of not just classrooms and how you can redesign that, but what outdoor spaces can we create for that social-emotional learning and making sure kids are out there and exploring and having fun?"
The conceptual design also includes plans to demolish the existing multipurpose room and build a larger, more multifunctional space with flexible partition walls that could be used to create breakout learning spaces or smaller classrooms. The new space could also have a large open hangar door facing the school's field to make it an "indoor-outdoor space," Boyce said.
The next step is attaching a price tag to the project, Boyce said, and presenting that to the donor. The school hopes to seek board approval for the project in early 2016, Boyce wrote in a Dec. 8 message to families.
Under board policy, gifts more than $50,000 require an internal evaluation and approval process, led by the district's chief business official, and no bidding or work on a project can begin until it has been approved by the board and funds have been deposited in a district account.
If approved by the board, the school would then create focus groups to gather more input on how to design any new spaces, with an eye toward completing final schematic plans in June 2016, Boyce wrote in her principal's message.
The project will be further discussed at the school's next site council meeting Thursday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. in the Addison library.
School board policies on gifts
Under school board policy, donors are "encouraged" to make gifts to the district rather than to a particular school. At the superintendent's or designee's discretion, however, a donation can be used at a specific school. Donations to individual sites cannot be used for personnel costs during the school day.
The board's policy review committee is currently discussing this gifts policy. Under a proposed administrative regulation that would provide further guidance to the board's policy on gifts, the superintendent or a designee would be able to approve donations of less than $50,000, and amounts more than that would require board approval.
District Bond Program Manager Bob Golton said that he could not recall any major facilities gifts to elementary schools in recent years. Three elementary sites -- Duveneck, Fairmeadow and Ohlone -- have received significant upgrades and new buildings through the $378 million Strong Schools Bond voters approved in 2008.
There have been a few facilities donations at the secondary level. In 2007, the board accepted an anonymous donation, just under $3 million, to cover the cost of installing synthetic-turf fields at both Paly and Gunn. In 2014, a new track around the perimeter of Jordan Middle School's field was made possible with an anonymous $250,000 donation.
Perhaps the most significant facilities gift in the school district's history is the Peery family's $24 million donation, announced in 2013, to build a state-of-the-art athletic center at Palo Alto High School.
A board policy that was adopted in 2002 to address inequities in site-based fundraising stopped Palo Alto parent-teacher associations (PTAs) from raising money for specific schools to pay for personnel. In the wake of that policy adoption, which went into effect in 2004, nonprofit educational foundation Partners in Education (PiE) was launched to conduct districtwide fundraising, which is distributed equally to all schools on a per-student basis.
PiE is the only fundraising organization allowed by the school board to pay for salaries of personnel working during the school day, according to the group's website, while PTAs support materials, programs and events at individual schools. PTAs can also fund school improvements, playground equipment classroom enrichment and supplies, student scholarships for field trips and school-specific programs or events like assemblies.
The same year PiE formed, in 2005, the district's two high schools a parity problem in raising funds for new football stadium lights. While a few major Paly donors, including the quarterback's mother, stepped forward with more than $215,000 to pay for lighting structures, which were installed within months, boosters across town at Gunn -- inspired by Paly's new lights -- struggled to raise enough dollars to do the same. (They ultimately did and the lights were installed in 2006.)